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Well, I’m a day late and a dollar short and don’t care a WHIT because I am typing this outside in my backyard in the sunshine. It may be – checks calendar – only April 7 but it FEELS like summer, and right now that is a novel and welcome feeling so I’m going to bask in it a bit. There are so few opportunities for good basking, don’t you agree? 

The reason I am late with my dinners this week is because I have hit my semi-annual Dinner Wall and hit it hard. Nothing sounds good. I cannot bear to think of food. Not a single food sounds remotely edible, not even my one true love: tacos. Perhaps I have overdone it on the Easter candy. Although I don’t really think so, because even that sounds repulsive at pleasant. I tracked down a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs at Walgreens (thanks for the recommendation, NGS!) and I have not opened it. That’s how dire things are, people.

Of course, we are once again confronted by the undeniable fact that we must eat to survive, and therefore I need to plan something. (Even takeout sounds unappealing, which is an indication of where I am, food-ily.) (I am feeling, temporarily I’m sure, wary of takeout because I had a Bad Experience at a new pizza place we tried over the weekend. Super crowded, like an endless line of people going in and out; MULTIPLE staff members wearing their masks around their chins; at one point, ten entire customers packed into the narrow vestibule together; MULTIPLE customers not wearing their masks properly. I waited outside, which helped – I could feel aghast without feeling personally at risk. But then I also saw a person pick up a stack of boxes, leave the pizza place for an undetermined amount of time, return with the boxes, and hand the boxes back to the checkout person, and then the checkout person put them back in the warming cupboard. One of the customers said something about the returned boxes, and a different staff person removed them and, presumably, threw them away, while telling the checkout person that you can’t put food that has left the premises back in the warming cupboard and return it to circulation. A learning experience for all. But I think you understand why I am feeling a bit skittish about takeout after that. SADLY, the pizza was really good.) 

In times like these, when NOTHING sounds good, not even cheese and crackers or nachos for beets’ sake, we turn to things we know we enjoy, no matter what. And yet… every single one of my tried-and-true, easy breezy go-to meals sounds revolting and vomitous. Okay. So we shift to meals that provide nourishment only, and don’t worry about the taste as much. And yet… contemplating a plain Jane meat-plus-veg formula makes me want to violently fling a chicken breast into a broccoli patch.

Nonetheless, after much feet dragging and moaning, I have dug up some recipes that don’t make me want to throw poultry. Plus, I badgered my husband into contributing two meal ideas. Let’s ignore the fact that one of those ideas is a food I refuse to eat and the other is out of season.

Dinners for the Week of April 6-12

  • Beer Braised Chipotle Chicken TacosTacos have yet to fail me. And this is a new-to-me recipe, so it has the novelty factor.
  • Grilled Thai Pork Tenderloin with Soba Noodle Salad: This sounds interesting and summery. Let’s give it a shot.
  • Southwest Salmon SaladI can almost get a little excited to eat this. 
  • Fake Shack BurgersThe restaurant food I have missed the most during the pandemic has been A Really Good Burger. We have tried making burgers on the grill and in the instant pot, and – while both have their merits – they just aren’t the same as a thick, greasy burger from my favorite burger place. (Shake Shack, which I am sure is lovely, is not the place to which I am referring.) I just can’t see getting a burger as takeout. I think it would ruin the burger. So when I came across this recipe I thought maybe it would be The Secret to getting the burger I’ve been craving. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Baked Feta Pasta (for my husband) and Gigi Hadid’s Spicy Vodka Pasta (for me): Who am I to deny my husband the experience of a TikTok fad, and myself a meal of delicious, delicious pasta?
  • Persian Pomegranate ChickenThis is my husband’s other contribution to the meal plan. It does not sound appealing to me, but it does sound DIFFERENT, and sometimes different is just as good as appealing. Plus, I am all in favor of encouraging my husband to take part in the meal planning process. The thing is… pomegranates are not in season right now. And also this is a FALL meal. Even though I already said nothing sounds good and so this next bit might sound contradictory: I don’t want FALL meals, I want salads and things we can grill. But! Nonetheless, if I can track down some pomegranate arils and some pomegranate molasses, we will be giving this a shot this week. If there are no pomegranates to be found at this time of year, we will have, instead, Szechuan Stir Fry.

What do you provide for dinner when nothing sounds good?

Tuesday, we had 73 degrees and sunshine. This morning, we woke up to at least two – possibly three – inches of snow, with more hurrying down from the sky. 

This is my kind of April Fool’s Day prank. But I do love snow. 

When I woke Carla to share with her the trick the weather had played, she was first delighted then dismayed because she had not come up with her own prank. I assured her it was fine – REALLY, it was fine; I do not care for April Fool’s Day or really pranks of any type. I had vague plans to track down some googly eyes, to put on household items, but forgot my plans once I was inside Target. And really. I just cannot muster any enthusiasm for a day that purports to deceive and embarrass. Yes, I sound like a huge prissy party pooper, but SO BE IT. 

Aside from that last sentence there, I am recovered from my crabbiness. I attribute the recovery to you and your comments about candy and hormonal fluctuations. Thank you for commiserating. 

To abruptly change topics, Swistle posted yesterday about her experience getting the Covid vaccine. I suspect that, for me, vaccine reports could EASILY rank right up next to grocery store reports in terms of pandemic subjects I find fascinating. In case you also find that sort of thing fascinating, I am going to post about my own experience getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer). 

First, I had a friend who got the vaccine a month or so ago and she started to gently urge me to find a way to get it. She had some friends who were… massaging the system a bit, with the desired results, and she was passing this information on to me in case I, too, wanted to know how to get a vaccine as quickly as possible. 

This next bit is going to be a little awkward to write, because I want to be clear that I DO NOT CARE how or why you or anyone else gets a vaccine. As long as you are not knocking a syringe out of a wheezing elderly person’s arm or kidnapping a vaccine provider, I am just pleased to hear when a person is vaccinated. I do not care if you had to fudge the truth a little. Or a lot. TRULY.

And yet I am and will always remain A Rule Follower, and so I could not bring myself to lie. I TRIED. I went onto the websites my friend suggested, but whenever it asked if I was 50 or older, I could not bring myself to click yes. Nor could I come up with any remotely reasonable way I fit into any of the medical exceptions. 

However, I was prepared to sign up the INSTANT that it became possible to schedule a vaccine for my age group. I signed up on my hospital system’s website to be notified as soon as I was eligible. Please note that I had to put in my age and my birth date, so that the system had all the information necessary to determine when I was eligible. 

Time passed. My age group became eligible for the vaccine in my state. A (different) friend sent me a link to a not-my-hospital provider that had openings. I dithered a little bit, and texted my husband to see what he thought, but in the few seconds he took to respond, the appointment had been snatched out from under me. Filled with regret and dismay, I refreshed the page until a new appointment popped up. The only issue was that the location was an hour’s drive away. But FINE! I will drive an hour! I signed up, I had an appointment, HOORAY! 

Three days before my appointment, I got a text from my hospital system. It said, and I quote: 

Suzanne, it’s time to schedule your COVID-19 vaccination. Supplies are limited. You can schedule online at LINK.

I clicked that link SO FAST, you guys. (Yes, I know I already had an appointment. But I was hoping for a nearer vaccination site. And my appointment was still far enough away I felt I could cancel without, like, RUINING the vaccine they had intended for me.)

On my hospital website, one of the questions you had to answer, before scheduling, was if you were age 50 and up. 

I looked at that question for a long time. A very long time indeed when you feel that vaccination slots are being filled every nanosecond.

In our state, the 40-and-over group was newly eligible. I had pre-registered with my hospital system. I had given my age during the pre-registration. The hospital system had texted me and explicitly said it was time to schedule my vaccine. 

I decided that they had simply not updated their website to reflect the new eligibility requirements. It had only been a couple of days, after all. So I clicked that I was 50 and up. Which is a LIE and felt WRONG. I told you, I am A Rule Follower. But I felt like the website was inaccurate, and that I was still adhering to the rules, which said people 40 and over could get a vaccine. (Perhaps this is the type of slippery justification that everyone makes when they LIE to get their way.) (Grimace emoji.)

After I LIED justified my inaccurate answer, I was able to schedule an appointment for the very same day that my previous appointment had been on, which was great news because my husband was off work so I didn’t have to worry about Carla. Plus, the vaccination location was about ten minutes from my house rather than an hour. Unlike with my previous scheduling experience, I was able to schedule my second vaccine at the same time. 

(In the interest of completeness, it was not SIMPLE to schedule the vaccine. There was a nine minute time limit on your ability to secure a specific time. And I am sure the system was overwhelmed with people making appointments, so I spent a lot of time holding my breath while the “waiting” wheel churned on my screen. I dithered VERY SLIGHTLY in scheduling my follow up (just so I could check my calendar!) and the spot was filled. So I had to start all over again and click YES on the 50-and-up question again, which was agonizing. Okay, so it only took two tries to secure an appointment. But it took nearly the entire nine minutes each time, which was very stressful. Like watching 24 only you are tied to a chair in a flaming building while you wait for Jack Bauer. Perhaps I am being a touch dramatic.)

As soon as I got a confirmation email, which took just a few minutes, I cancelled my previously-scheduled vaccination. I hope it was filled quickly by someone local.

I slept terribly the night before the vaccine. Pre-vaccination jitters? I don’t know. 

I left my house a little early, so I would arrive at the vaccination site about ten minutes before my vaccine. When I got close to the medical building hosting the vaccinations, there was lots of easy-to-see-and-read signage about where to go. I pulled into the parking lot and opened my window to speak to a man with a bullhorn. He asked me what time my appointment was and told me they were running late. He said I should pull into a parking lot to the right and back into a spot. Then listen for him to call my vaccination time, at which point I should drive through the parking lot, past him, and into a parking lot closer to the building. Then walk in and follow signs to the registration desk. 

I do not like backing into parking spots, but I did as I was told. I had to wait about twenty minutes, which passed quickly because of adrenaline. Also because two vehicles nearly got into an accident – one backing into a spot didn’t see the other was within hitting distance. The person who was almost hit leaned on her horn and yelled foul things at the first person, and then, surprisingly (to me), backed into the spot directly next to the perpetrator. That seems like an awkward situation she could have easily avoided, but people make interesting choices all the time. 

I was worried that I wouldn’t hear the bullhorn, but I did. I pulled out of my spot, found a nearer parking spot, and walked into the building. Lots of volunteers were on hand to keep people on track. The line was long but moved quickly. Stickers on the walls and floor marked out six feet of space between each person; unfortunately, the people behind me ignored them completely and crowded me. If Carla had been there, I would have made a loud, cheerful, passive aggressive comment to her about how nice it was that the hospital had put up these stickers to help us keep adequate distance from others, but she was not there and so I merely looked over my shoulder in a shocked and uncomfortable way several times. The people behind me did not notice. 

The first stop was a table where volunteers took our temperatures and gave us paperwork about the Pfizer vaccine. Legal disclaimers and side effect information. I did not read it because I was going to get the vaccine regardless. There was also a personal information sheet, but the volunteer said we would fill it out at the next station. The next stop was at the door to a large room. Volunteers and hospital staff sat at long tables on either side of the room. Each person had a computer. In the middle of the room were two lines of people waiting to be taken back for their vaccines. When there was a spot open at a computer station, I went and sat down. There was a big bottle of hand sanitizer on the table. The tired-looking but kind staff person asked me things like my name and BIRTH DATE and the typical “have you had any Covid symptoms” questions we have all answered a million times by now. She had me sign something – I can’t remember what but I am assuming it was a consent form of some sort. Then she had me go stand in one of the two lines in the middle of the room. Again, there were stickers on the floor. The same people who had been behind me earlier lined up behind me again, though this time they did less crowding. 

When I was first in line, a volunteer motioned for me to follow him. He led me past a bunch of curtained cubicles to one with an open curtain. A man sat inside the cubicle and told me to sit down, then he closed the curtain and asked me a few more questions, including my birthdate. The man – who turned out to be a nurse from my hospital system; he was wearing a nametag and scrubs – was very nice, let me clear on that, but he was the type of person who makes sort of awkward jokey comments. So I did a lot of polite/awkward laughing. Like, he made some comment about how do I come here often? and that I don’t look forty at all! I am not good at this type of banter.

He also asked me why I was there. “To get my vaccine,” I said. 

“But… You’re only forty. Do you have any of the eligibility requirements – asthma, diabetes?” he asked. I started to get nervous at that point. 

“No,” I told him.

“Then why are you here?” He was very congenial, not accusatory, and kept filling out my vaccine card the entire time he was asking me questions, which helped me stay calm.

“I got a text from the hospital saying it was time to sign up, so I did,” I told him.

“Hmmm,” he said, still very conversational and friendly. “I thought we were only scheduling people ages 50 and up. But what do I know?” 

I remained silent. 

“Well, ages 40 and up are eligible as of what, last Friday?” He was preparing the syringe. 

I nodded. Silently. 

He shrugged and scooted closer to me. He wiped my shoulder with an antibacterial swab.

I felt like I had gotten away with something. (LYING.) But I was also irritated at the hospital system for a) not adhering to the state-wide eligibility requirements and b) texting me to say I should schedule my appointment if they really didn’t mean for me to do exactly that.

He said something jokey about how he would try not to let it hurt. I told him that I was going to look away, which I tell everyone when I get a shot, because if I look at the syringe – or wood board the syringe entering my skin – I will pass the eff out.  He made some jokey comment about how he was going to look away, too. 

The shot hurt as much/as little as any shot does. He applied a Band-Aid, while making a jokey comment about how he couldn’t even see the puncture and he’d been looking away so he had no idea where it was. He handed me a timer, which he had set for 15 minutes. He handed me my vaccination card. 

I thanked him, profusely, and left the little cubicle. Across the hall, a volunteer directed me into a big room that had dozens of chairs set up, roughly six feet apart (I am assuming), with people sitting in about half of them. A volunteer told me to sit on a chair with a sticker on it. The sticker turned out to be my “I am vaccinated!” sticker, which I obviously photographed immediately and sent to all my friends.

As I sat there with a dozen or so of my fellow vaccine recipients, I was full of so many feelings! I was so happy to be halfway vaccinated! I was so proud of all these people in the room who had made the same choice! I was so grateful to the nurses and volunteers and the vaccine makers! I was so relieved! I was so terribly sad that we’d all had this collective experience of fear and grief and loss. I thought I would cry but I didn’t. 

I was also a little anxious – okay, more than a little – to be in a room with so many strangers. I could hear one poor woman hacking and coughing in the distance and I hoped fervently that no one would get Covid from the vaccination site. 

My timer went off and I handed it to a volunteer who immediately sanitized it. Then I followed signs to the exit, got in my car, and went home. 

It was a very smooth, efficient, and surreal experience. 

My arm was sore to the touch for two days. It hurt to sleep on that side for two nights, but didn’t hurt to move or lift. My appointment was in the morning and I felt crummy (tired, nauseated, glum) for the rest of the day, but it’s possible it was because I hadn’t slept well the night before. And now I am half vaccinated, with my second shot scheduled for mid-April. My husband, brother, and sister-in-law are fully vaccinated. My parents get their second vaccinations this week. That just leaves my husband’s parents, my other sister-in-law, my niece, and my daughter (and my niece and my daughter will be a loooooong way off). I find that with each person in my circle who gets vaccinated, I feel a burden of worry lift off of me. Similarly, when I read about vaccinations happening – to friends, acquaintances, or strangers – I feel a wonderful lightening. 

I hope YOU and your loved ones have a vaccination in your near future. But I’m hoping – hoping hoping – that with each shot that enters into the tissue of someone’s arm, another little tiny layer of protection surrounds you in the meantime.

Typing that headline I had an image flash across my brain of myself, hovering over an aquarium, tending to a pet crab. That would be something.

Anyway, I continued to be crabby after I posted yesterday. At some point, I noticed that I had a canker sore on my upper gum line. And then I noticed another one on my upper lip right where it touches the bottom of my top tooth. And then as I was readying for bed, inspecting my face with all the critical attentiveness one musters for that act, I noticed that I have SEVERAL pimples. Hmm. Hmmmmmm. 

Aunt Flo no longer visits me each month (because of the birth control I take), so it can sometimes feel like I am delightfully exempt from her whims. But no. I still have hormonal ups and downs and APPARENTLY this is a down. Or an up. I’m not sure exactly what I’m saying but SOMETHING is amiss. 

Well. At least I can be (relatively) assured that the crabbiness will end. At some point. 

Today I went to Target. INSIDE of Target. I have been inside of Target once since last February. That was a Major Life Change, considering that I used to go about twice a month prior to the pandemic. My primary purpose was to buy Easter candy, which was extremely difficult to do via the curbside pickup option. But I also wanted to buy some birthday cards and a few other items – more stainless steel cleaning spray, more soap for Carla’s bathroom, some elastics for my hair (WHERE do they all GO?), some special mouthwash to address the stupid canker sores.

The last time I went to Target, also driven by Need of Holiday Candy, I found the whole experience to be very disquieting. This time it was much better! 

There was a staff member right inside the doors, wiping down the handles of the carts. That was nice, but they were using one of the wipes that used to be available to customers, and I don’t think I EVER saw any indication that those wipes were more than wet pieces of disposable cloth. Perhaps they are different now, who can say. I had remembered to bring my own Clorox wipe in with me, so I used it to re-wipe the handle. (I am aware that the chance of catching Covid from a surface is vanishingly small. And yet I was a germophobe long before this pandemic and my germophobia has, like my waistline, only amplified over the course of the past year.)

The $1 shelves were VERY picked over, as were the shelves that usher you into the store from the entryway. Usually they are stocked with chips or bags of candy or whatever; today they were mostly bare, except for a few dozen canisters of antibacterial wipes and a lone package of PopTarts.

The cleaning products aisles were, while not flush, adequately stocked. There were a few bare spots – none of my preferred wood polish, for instance – but they felt typical of pre-pandemic “needs restocking” levels, rather than “everyone is hoarding this item” levels. There was PLENTY of Clorox spray. And there was a whole new section of shelving filled with antibacterial wipes. (It seemed to me, going through the store, that anytime there were bare shelves, Target filled them with wipes. There were several end caps and mid-aisle shelves with wipes on them.) Including brand-name wipes, like Lysol and Clorox. Perhaps most amazing of all: I walked past them without putting a single canister of wipes in my cart. 

The soap section seemed well stocked. And the new-since-the-pandemic aisle of hand sanitizer was nearly full AND there was even some PURELL, which I haven’t seen in the wild in a year.  

An acquaintance who seems to Know Things said that the Suez Canal blockage might result in a toilet paper shortage, so I did get a package of toilet paper. Just a normal size one – not one of the 85-roll ones. 

As I was walking past the pharmacy, I overheard someone on the phone discussing the GoLytely shortage. (If you don’t know what GoLytely is, you will when you turn 50.) Of course I already knew about the GoLytely shortage – being married to a doctor FINALLY has some perks – but it was amusing to encounter it in real life. Also, I continue to find these random (and possibly totally unrelated to the pandemic) shortages FASCINATING.

Moving along to the grocery section: We did not need a lot of food items (I did just go to the grocery store), but I checked on pepperoni (none), Lunchables (only a handful, and of those, none that Carla would eat), frozen pancakes (YES! I grabbed two boxes), and taco seasoning (none of the canisters in my preferred brand, but plenty of packets). 

I DID find cinnamon bears. They tasted exactly the way I imagined/hoped/remembered they would. A very satisfying purchase.

The bag did not come ripped; I opened it IMMEDIATELY open arriving home, to quench my cinnamon bear thirst even before I photographed the bag for posterity.

I went a little wild in the gardening section. It’s been a long time since I tried to grow lettuce in my AeroGarden (it turns out that, despite my belief to the contrary and my best efforts, I am NOT a person who consumes enough basil and cilantro to make it worthwhile to grow ONLY those things), so I bought two varieties to try. I also saw some little mini tomatoes seeds and a package of sugar snap pea seeds; I have NO IDEA how I will grow them in my deer-infested yard, but I’m going to give it a go.

Then the Easter aisle. 

It was, as expected, VERY picked through. The Easter section takes up two half-aisles (four shelves total), plus a table at one end, plus six end caps, plus a separate row of shelving against the far wall. The two shelves and end caps were nearly completely bare. The table at one end had some items – mainly Peeps and Cadbury eggs – the kind with the goo inside, not the kind with the crunchy candy shell. The aisle with plastic fillable eggs and baking items was picked over but not empty. The shelving on the far wall had a haphazard selection of Easter basket items — Pez dispensers and children’s TV character-themed items — that had been well rummaged.

I was able to get my husband his requests (Reese’s Pieces eggs and Cadbury eggs, the crunchy shell kind) and I was able to find suitable candy for filling eggs for the egg hunt (individually wrapped things like Cookies and Crème bunnies, marshmallow eggs, and some Starburst minis) and for filling baskets (movie-theatre-style boxes of Sour Patch Kids and Nerds Gummy Clusters, some Snickers and Twix eggs, a box of yellow Peeps). 

I made the mistake of picking up and then putting down again the only bag of Cadbury eggs I could find… and then when I went back to get it, another mom had snapped it up. (There were three of us, picking through the wreckage.) I found two mini bags of the Cadbury eggs, and then saw an endcap near the checkout with a whole shelf of the large bags, so I got one of those as well. 

There were ZERO Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs in the store. ZERO. There were some with marshmallow or white chocolate on them – I didn’t really pause long enough to find out the details beyond the fact that they weren’t the Real Deal. And there were a couple of bags of mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But NO EGGS. Luckily, I picked up two RPBEs (singles, not bags) at Walgreens the other day. But I am NOT SHARING THEM WITH MY FAMILY.

The main difference I found between Target-from-the-Before-Times and Target now was that the staff situation seemed to have improved dramatically. In the Before Times, it was very difficult to find a staff member at all, and if you spotted one, they were inevitably engaged in a heated and uninterruptible argument with the only other staff member in the store. But now I was approached not once but TWICE by staff people who asked me if I was finding everything okay. I mean, I don’t THINK I looked any more bewildered than usual, so I think they were just being proactively helpful. As I was walking to the checkout, one of the other moms from the Easter candy section called out, “I can’t find my cart!” and two staff people immediately descended upon her and one told her to wait there, she would get the cart for her. The checkout person was very nice and cheerful and non-invasive, AND she very carefully set aside my birthday cards so they wouldn’t get scrunched. It was a noticeable difference and one that I hope sticks around even in the After Times.

The checkout situation, despite the lovely staff person, has NOT improved, however. There were still only two checkouts open despite very long lines, made longer by carts full of Easter candy. I assume. That was the main contents of my cart, at least.

When I got home, I tested the cinnamon bears immediately after washing my hands. Then, later, I tested a Cookies and Crème bunny (delicious, especially the crunchy bits of cookie throughout) and a Hershey’s marshmallow egg (perplexing, with an odd spice taste that I couldn’t place – not cardamom, not anise, but… something). It amuses me, a bit, that I liked the Cookies and Crème Bunny as much as I did. Because I don’t really care for chocolate, the Easter Bunny always put something with white chocolate in my Easter basket. Very thoughtful of the Easter Bunny, really. But I do not care for white chocolate EITHER. It is possible that I like it less than actual chocolate.

In general, I’d say I gravitate more toward fruity candy. But my One True Candy – at least for the past few yearsdecade – has been the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. No other Reese’s Peanut Butter product can hold a candle to the OG RPBE. 

My husband has said, repeatedly, that Easter has the best candy options. His favorites, apparently, are Reese’s Pieces Eggs and Cadbury Mini Eggs. At some point, he must have liked Peeps because his mother always sends us more Peeps than a human should possibly own, let alone consume. (But that could be one of those misremembered Mom things; I would hazard to guess that my own mother would say I like white chocolate.)

Carla is easy. She likes anything sweet. 

Now I am interested in knowing about YOUR favorite Easter candy.

Despite a) truly glorious, early spring weather, complete with sunshine and birdsong and blooming forsythia, and b) a brisk morning walk with a friend in said beautiful weather, I am cranky. For no substantial reason!

(I DO have to go to Target, and go inside no less, to procure some Easter candy. And I am dreading filling the plastic eggs with… whatever it is I normally fill them with. Candy? Maybe the Easter Bunny will upgrade to some dollar bills. The prospect of a Target trip is not super cheering.)

(Yesterday I had to make multiple phone calls, AND I deep cleaned the bathrooms, so perhaps I have some residual grouchiness from that?)

(We ARE supposed to go from low-seventies to low-thirties in the next day or two, so there’s that. Plus, it is QUITE WINDY and you know my feelings about THAT.) (Grump grump grump.)

Well, crabby mood or not, we must eat. I skipped my Dinners This Week post last week because I just couldn’t BEAR to think about food or plan any meals or cook. My husband is very agreeable in times like these, so he put up with leftovers, scrounging around, and takeout for several nights. And then HE planned this week’s meals (except for tonight’s tacos, which were a Carla Request). By “planned” I mean that he suggested things for me to cook, but that is indeed helpful because planning the meals – thinking of things that we haven’t eaten too recently, that don’t take a million years to cook, that will make at least some use of food we have in the house already, that two-thirds of us will eat and not hate – can be just awful.

Armed with my husband’s meal plan, I went to the grocery store after my lovely, not-de-grouchifying-in-the-least walk. (I am sure my friend found me RULL PLEASANT.) I did not want to go to the grocery store. Yet I really needed to go to the grocery store. We had run out of half and half, people. HALF AND HALF. I have been putting MILK in my tea like an Agatha Christie character.

Probably it was good that I was able to go to the grocery store on a cranky day. Grocery shopping puts me on edge as it is, so I’m putting the crankiness to good use, at least. And then I could really glower at the frozen foods case where the pancakes are once again MISSING and sigh dramatically over the dearth of regular-old large eggs (I do not need extra large eggs or jumbo eggs or super jumbo eggs, thank you very much) and stare in a pointedly Very Patient Way at the woman who was ambling – AMBLING – in a zig-zag fashion down the aisle, making it next to impossible to pass her on either side. 

I did buy myself some flowers, which helps. 

And I bought ingredients to make cinnamon rolls, which I DO NOT NEED to make, but which sounds like a very festive Easter morning breakfast. Because if there’s one thing a home visited by the Easter Bunny needs, it’s more sugar. Well. If my husband talks me down from the cinnamon rolls, at least bread flour and cream cheese keep for a good long while.

I stood in front of the beef selection for a Very Long Time because my recipe calls for chuck roast and my choices were chuck EYE roast or chuck SHOULDER roast or some other things that had the word CHUCK in them but not the word ROAST. I wanted to CHUCK a ROAST right at my husband for choosing the recipe, I’ll tell you that much. Google did not help. I did not have the recipe on me, because it is in a PHYSICAL BOOK, not on a website, like it’s 1953. I see I am getting a little shouty. At least I did not shout at the beef selection. I finally asked the meat monger – a young woman, which pleased me – and she very decisively told me that the chuck EYE roast would be best for my stew purposes, so I went on my way. (I was very glad she’d said chuck EYE roast, because the recipe called for 3 to 3.5 pounds of chuck roast and not a single roast in the entire case was 3.5 pounds. They were all 2.25 to 2.75. But! I did find ONE ROAST that was just a squeak under 3 pounds and it was the chuck EYE roast.)

Carla and I – after much deliberation – are planning to make macarons this weekend, as our Easter baking project. They will be filled with lemon curd and buttercream as per this recipe (although I bought the lemon curd in a jar), but will have speckles per this recipe. I am very, very exhausted by even the prospect of Holiday Baking Projects. But perhaps by the weekend I will feel more chipper about the idea. Anyway, I had to buy a huge giant container of cream of tartar, even though we only need a pinch, because I had failed to check on our cream of tartar situation at home. Let me tell you, my face fell when I saw a little container of cream of tartar in the spice cupboard. Fortunately for all involved (me and the cream of tartar), it had expired in 2014. 

For some reason, I have had a craving for cinnamon gummy bears. I don’t think I have had a cinnamon bear for… thirty years? And I am fairly sure that I would eat a total of three of them and then be satisfied for another three decades. But the craving is strong. So of course I cannot find cinnamon bears anywhere. Grouse grouse grouse.

This isn’t so much a grocery store report as it is a catalog of things that irritated me whilst at the grocery store. 

Grocery availability has gotten so reliable (aside from pancakes) that I didn’t even LOOK for some of the things that I normally bought in duplicate just in case – was there any pepperoni? Who knows! My preferred taco seasoning in my preferred little jar is still out of stock, but I can buy it in the envelopes so it’s not a BIG deal. And the taco shell shelves seemed a little patchy, but I still only purchased a single box of taco shells. What did that meme say last year? “The earth is healing”? (Is “the earth” in this scenario me or the grocery store supply chain?) Now we just sit and wait for Suez-Canal-blockage-related shortages to start. 

Dinners for the Week of March 30-April 5

  • Tacos
  • Mulligatawny Soup – This was my lone suggestion for the week, simply because we have mire poix pre-cut in the freezer AND because I picked up another loaf of sourdough bread at the grocery store. Sour toast will pair very nicely with some Mulligatawny.
  • Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Tenderloin – I got my husband some feta and he already has some sundried tomatoes. I will make rice and caramelize some onions to serve with the pork. Easy peasy.
  • Guinness Stew with Side Salad – I bought some Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day, because I had never tried it before. Turns out I do not care for it. But my husband pointed out we could use it for stew, and indeed we will. I found a recipe in The Best International Recipe cookbook, from the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated (which is different from America’s Test Kitchen in some way but I do not understand what it is). Why is it “recipe” instead of “recipes”? Just to tug my toehairs, I guess. Also, holy Slovenian sausage, this cookbook is PRICEY. I sure as sugar did not pay $66 for this cookbook and neither should you. 

What are you eating and/or baking this week? Or, if you feel like joining me in a Celebration of Crabbiness, what is getting all up in your grump today?

Wind

Important note: Carla has recently discovered that she likes sourdough bread, and especially so if it is toasted and coated in butter. She refers to this as “sour toast” which is its name henceforth and forevermore.

This morning I helped myself to two (2) healthy slabs of sour toast, which was small compensation for a night that was not in the least bit restful. 

The troubles began at tennish when my husband and I were laughing heartily along to Derry Girls – if you, like me, are very behind on Good Shows, please note that so far this one is Very Good – and my daughter poked her head into the kitchen to inform us that she was (metaphorical ironic jazz hands) still! awake! 

First, we allowed her to come snuggle with us on the couch. We carried on a silent conversation with our eyes about whether we should turn the TV back on and see if she would simply fall asleep there; that has worked exactly once in the past. (We decided against it. Not only has it only ever worked once, but this show also uses curse words with great gusto and Carla is at an age where she loves to say, “Did that person say the f-word Mommy? Why did they say the f-word?” except she likes to USE the f-word because it is a Sanctioned Circumvention of the no-cursing rule.) In the end, we took her back to her room and did all the soothing, get-back-to-bed things – set up a lamp that shed more light than a nightlight but less light than the one on her bedside table, adjusted her covers for optimum temperature, played some spa music on her ipad, lots of hugs and kisses and reassurance that she could leave her room if she was still asleep in half an hour – and went back to Derry Girls

As a totally unnecessary aside, that I still feel I need to share as Important Background, the “you can come tell us in thirty minutes if you are still awake” directive stems from a night earlier this year. Carla woke up at midnight and then proceeded to try to get herself back to sleep – which I commend! – for TWO HOURS until she finally came to me for help. At that point, I didn’t think it was advisable to give her melatonin (why? because it was the middle of the night and my reasoning faculties were sleep-logged), PLUS she was already so awake that there was no getting back to sleep at all. I tried ALL my get-back-to-sleep techniques (including rubbing her back and singing her lullabies) for an hour before we finally gave up and went downstairs and turned on the TV. If she had come to me at midnight when she first woke up, or at 12:30 when she’d given getting back to sleep a good solid go, a) I would have been more likely to be awake and b) I would definitely have given her melatonin. Anyway. Now she has a thirty minute limit to how long she needs to lie awake by herself. 

She did indeed return after thirty minutes. It was by now eleven. 

This time, I gave her melatonin and crawled into bed with her and rubbed her back. She was very chatty for a child who should have been asleep for three hours at that point. It was upsetting to hear her have the same thoughts that I have when I can’t sleep: if I don’t sleep NOW, I will only get X hours of sleep! What if I never fall asleep? What if I am tired tomorrow? I tried to reassure her that it totally doesn’t matter if she doesn’t even sleep at ALL (no school), and that she will feel tired but that’s okay. We can have a low-key day and/or take a nap and/or go to bed early. That seemed to smooth out some of the rumply anxious feelings, so I went to bed and read and tried not to worry that every sound was Carla popping out of bed to tell me she was still awake (semi-frantic metaphorical jazz hands).

At around midnight, the thunder started, so of course Carla popped into our room, this time awake but also Scared Of Thunder and worrying about power outages and whether we would have to relocate to the basement. 

(Did you do this, growing up? Pretty much any time we had a thunderstorm when I was a kid, we’d load up armfuls of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and flashlights and head into the basement to wait it out. This may be because of Tornado Concern, although my memory is fuzzy on the details. Anyway, it’s still my immediate response to a severe storm: get to the basement!) (My husband did not have the same childhood experience of storms, nor is he remotely concerned about weather, so we occasionally have Heated Discussions about whether we need to go to the basement or not. Carla has probably overheard those discussions, which is probably why she was so concerned about it.) (Our current, finished, carpeted-with-couches-and-a-TV basement is a MUCH nicer place to wait out a storm. My childhood basement was unfinished and we used to gather in the exercise room, which had a concrete floor, a Nordic Track, a stationary bike, and a set of weight lifting equipment. It did have a small, old-fashioned-even-for-the-time black-and-white-TV.) 

Carla set up a little nest of blankets on our bedroom floor and eventually we all fell asleep. But I was awakened throughout the night by very obnoxious wind. 

Possibly because of Tornado Fear, I really hate wind. And I know that some parts of the country experienced tornadoes last night, which is devastating, and my heart goes out to the people who lost their property and homes and loved one. I feel deeply grateful for (currently) being safe in my own home, with my family, and working electricity. But I also know that the whims of catastrophe could descend upon us at any time – it is purely luck that we haven’t encountered a devastating event yet.

So every time the wind shook the gate next to my bedroom, or sent a bucket of rain slamming into the window, I would jerk into wakefulness and lie there, shaking, desperately scrolling through the radar section of my weather app, trying to determine from the little moving blobs of color whether we were nearing the end of the storm or whether tornadoes were imminent, and wondering if we have a local tornado siren, and wondering if the neighbor’s tree – which scrapes shriekingly against their siding in even a gentle breeze – is going to snap off and pierce the wall beside my bed, and, if so, would it reach my husband and leave Carla an orphan or just impale me. 

Of course, today also happens to be Trash Day, so I would wake up at any sound of the trash bins flapping, alert to the possibility that the recycling bin would topple over and spill cans and bottles and cardboard boxes all over the street. Would I emerge from my house to find my neighbors judging the number of pickle jars and wine bottles and cans of tomato puree I use in a week? And just how many Target boxes does one person need, really? (Not as many as Target thinks I need, that’s for sure.) Would I be chasing down soda cans and peeling soggy medical journals off my driveway all morning? 

The arrhythmic crescendo and decrescendo of the wind – plus the addition of the normal slam and clang of the garbage trucks making their rounds – finally tore me away from any semblance of sleep at about six. I lay there worrying about things like power outages (mainly, the prospect of losing all the frozen meat and veggies in my freezer) and insurance coverage (based on previous snow/wind destruction, we are already pretty sure insurance doesn’t cover damage to our arborvitae, but would it pay to replace the swingset?) and the possibility of tornadoes and some additional really dark, upsetting things until seven when a particularly lusty gust sent the now-empty garbage bins tumbling down the street. Ours were in the middle of the road and had to be moved immediately, which gave me an excuse (as opposed to doing something healthy like getting up to write or exercise or ANYTHING else besides worry endlessly) to get out of bed and start the day. 

We have a huge oak in the backyard that is perfect roof-crushing size and distance from our house. Until recently, I had never considered that it posed a threat to our neighbors’ homes as well – I suppose it could do some damage, but I don’t think it would crush the entire roof right over the sleeping inhabitants’ heads as it would if it fell on our house. In any case, earlier this month, we had an arborist come out and prune it. We’d set this appointment up in August, although I don’t have the faintest idea whether that’s a reasonable timeframe for securing the services of an arborist.

On the long-awaited day, two giant trucks arrived, carrying at least four people. But only two people emerged from the trucks – one to talk to me about the plan, and the other to execute the plan. The plan executor used a series of ropes and pulleys to climb up our tree, seemingly on his own – the other three people were nowhere in sight during his ascent or descent or pretty much at all in between; I guess mainly they moved the cut branches from our backyard to the front yard – and somehow carrying a chainsaw, and it all made me deeply uncomfortable. The entire time he was here, I kept darting from window to window, taking photographs and marveling at how many branches he extracted and trying to keep him firmly in the tree with the power of my brain.

This is an objectively terrible photo but it DOES capture a) man in tree, b) CHAINSAW, c) DANGLING, d) no one around to offer any sort of support, moral or otherwise, e) all the branches. And it gives you some sense of how tall the tree is, with a good thirty percent of the tree missing from the top of the photo..

I sent one of the photos to my husband – a photo of the man in the tree – and made a dumb joke about how the squirrels were really out of control this spring, har har. But then later, when the human arborist told me that our backyard squirrel (Howard, we call the squirrel Howard) was quite irate with him (human) for tampering with HIS (squirrel) tree, and I passed that information along to my husband (human), he (husband) was very confused about which squirrels in which situations were real or human. I didn’t think it was that confusing, but I was the one relaying the story. And the one referring to a human person (arborist) as a squirrel.  

The arborist cut off a LOT of dead branches. That’s what one of the two giant trucks was for – turning the branches into woodchips and hauling them away. (I have no idea what the other truck was for. Medical supplies, in case the arborist fell out of the tree?) With the oak being so tall, the size of the branches is disguised by distance. But once they were on the ground, it was clear just how enormous and abundant they were. I wish I had taken better photographs of just how many branches there were. (I felt ridiculous, scurrying around from window to window, trying to get good shots without alerting the arborist to my paparazzing.) 

After he was done pruning, the arborist also “sounded” (?) the trunk and examined any wounds on the tree, and declared that the tree was healthy and not in danger of falling on my house and crushing me while I sleep. That was, as you might imagine, a relief. 

But it turns out that even a healthy, de-branched oak does not prevent me from hating the wind. 

I keep wanting to find out exactly how gusty these gusts are, and then find out what the typical gusts were during my childhood, and compare them. As though I could say, in a tone of slightly-exasperated reassurance, “Okay, Self, these are only 60-mile-per-hour gusts, when the typical gales you experienced in childhood were 75 miles per hour.” and that would completely soothe my galloping pulse and send me immediately into a deep, untroubled slumber. 

When, in fact, it’s just different. We live in a crowded suburb surrounded by lots of large trees and other potential projectiles (lawn furniture, standing umbrellas, garbage bins, mailboxes) while then I was in my lone house on top of a barren hill, with only a handful of immature pines nearby. Plus, then I was a child, and I had the luxury of parents who could offer comfort, who could also carry the burden of worrying whether we would lose power and two freezers full of food, and of hoping fervently that our insurance covers wind damage, and of listening to the weather station with an ear out for the portent of tornadoes, and of deciding whether it was time to gather in the basement. Now I am the adult, with all of those anxieties to shoulder, while still maintaining an outward expression of competent calm, for the sake of the child who is already beset by so many hand-me-down worries she can’t sleep even before the wind starts blowing.

Carla is on spring break and I have somehow already forgotten how… challenging it is to have her around all the time. It’s lovely on the one hand, of course. This morning she came and snuggled up to me in bed and we chit-chatted while the fog of night evaporated around me. But on the other hand, I have all of my normal things to do with the addition of a small child who needs to be entertained. 

And do not get me wrong! I am Very Good at requiring her to entertain herself. She is excellent at playing independently. But even a child who is good at playing independently is incapable of playing independently all day for multiple days in a row. 

I have taken a note from my own playbook from last spring break, which was, of course AWFUL, knowing, as we did, that we would not be returning to school after spring break for an unknown amount of time… and perhaps not at all. (We did not go back until late September.) Anyway, last year’s playbook included making up a detailed schedule of tasks to do each day, to give us a sense of purpose and stave off boredom/despair. 

Because I now have Extensive Experience, and can (sometimes) learn from that experience, I have kept our lists short: Math problems, 30 minutes of reading, a short research project (we had Grand Plans to study all the states last summer and did not even make it halfway, so we are renewing our efforts), some sort of exercise, and then the rest of the day free. Well, except we also have PLAYDATES on the schedule, which is new from last year. We are getting together with a couple of school friends, outdoors and masked, at various points throughout the week. Plus, we are doing baking projects for St. Patrick’s Day. A baking project is always useful in getting a person through the week.

We couldn’t agree on a single baking project, so we have settled on two:

  • Pot of Gold Cupcakes: This was Carla’s choice. And frankly, they are darling. (I am Deeply Suspicious of the rainbow Airheads though.) In a totally out-of-character move (you know I love to make things As Difficult As Possible) (which I already am doing, by making TWO desserts), I bought boxed cupcake mix for this project. I got Funfetti cupcake mix, too, and I typically object to Funfetti for no actual reason. But we will be making the frosting and putting the cupcakes together and that feels like A Lot without tracking down and executing a delicious homemade cupcake recipe too. 
  • Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies: This was my husband’s choice. He so rarely makes a food request that I decided to make these also. Plus, to be honest, the cupcakes sound cuter than they do delicious. And chocolate plus mint sounds actually delicious. We will probably eat a brownie each and send the rest off to my husband’s office. I got a mix for the brownies too, but I think I will use butter and milk + coffee instead of vegetable oil and water, to try to coax it in a semi-homemade direction.

The prospect of TWO ENTIRE WEEKS (yes) of just me and Carla, coupled with coming off a Call Week, added to the absolute nightmare of the Daylight Saving Time Change, means that I have been completely incapable of coming up with anything to eat for dinner. So my dinner options for this week are a little… uninspired. 

Dinners for the Week of March 16-22

  • Sweet and Spicy Glazed Pork Chops with Side Salad: I am 90% sure I have some pork chops in the freezer, just waiting for this treatment.
  • Another round of Not-Skillet Chicken Enchiladas: We had these last week and they were delicious PLUS the recipe produced enough sauce and chicken for an entire second batch. They are in the freezer, ready to be popped into the oven. 
  • Tacos: This is a Carla Request and who am I to deny her?
  • Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup: This has become one of my favorite recipes and so what if this week seems to have a heavily Tex-Mex theme? I already have the veggies in the freezer, chopped and ready to go. And aside from the completely optional step of straining the blended tomatoes, this is a SUPER easy meal to toss in the slow cooker.
  • White Bean Enchilada Soup: Continuing to lean in to the Tex-Mex theme, and also it is supposed to snow at some point this week???? I have a friend in Denver who got walloped this week and I’m not anticipating that, at least. But a nice warm bowl of soup sounds like just the antidote to a resurgence of winter weather. And, as with the tortilla soup, I already have all the veggies waiting for me in the freezer. This will be a good one to postpone if we need to, also, because it doesn’t really call for anything fresh. (Except the veggies. Which, as I said, are HANDLED.)
  • Caprese Salad with Balsamic Chicken and Balsamic Dressing: This is for a day when we just can’t deal with another second of Tex-Mex flavors. And by “we” I mean my poor agreeable husband, because I could eat tacos and their ilk every day.
  • Dinner with FRIENDS: One of our dear friends is celebrating a Big Birthday this week and we are going to try to get together for dinner, outside, possibly at their house. I am SO EXCITED. This sort of cautious meeting-up with a couple of friends/families isn’t anything NEW; we’ve been doing distanced, masked (except while eating) outdoor get togethers since last summer. But it feels different now, somehow, like throwing on your winter coat when you know spring is just around the corner. Sure, it’s bulky and tiresome, but you only have to wear it for just a few more weeks and then you can spin around in the fresh air and sunshine without even a light jacket! Birds are chirping and daffodils are nudging their heads through the dirt and even the near-freezing temperatures have a little hint of springtime promise. We have come through this long, endless winter. Finally, spring is almost here. It’s coming! It’s on the way! 

You will wonder, in a moment, why I am calling this “My Take on the TikTok Baked Feta Pasta” when my version has neither feta nor tomatoes in it – two crucial ingredients in the original aforementioned TikTok pasta, the third and fourth being “pasta” and “olive oil.” 

You will likely wonder why I even glanced toward the TikTok Baked Feta Pasta, when I neither have TikTok nor can I stand tomatoes nor do I particularly care for feta. 

And yet, here we are, with me sharing a recipe (“recipe”) for my own version of a recipe I have neither tried nor wanted to try nor followed. 

Perhaps – you might think, trying to wrap your mind around my motives and this post – what appealed to me about the TTBFP is its simplicity. You put a few ingredients in a dish. You toss them in some olive oil. You throw the whole thing in an oven and then, 20 minutes later, stir in some pasta and voila! you have a meal. 

Well, you could be right, except that I went and made the TTBFP much more complicated, eliminating its simplicity right from the get go. 

I think it’s time to stop trying to understand me; I sure don’t, and I’ve lived with me for 40 years. Let’s get to the recipe. (“Recipe.”)

Baked Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pasta

Servings

Approximately three, if each serving takes up about half a soup bowl.

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 4 oz plain goat cheese
  • 1 head of garlic (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic glaze
  • Pasta of your choice (I used cellentani because it is pretty and fun to say)
  • Arugula (optional)

Directions:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with vegetable spray, just because you distrust olive oil’s food-sticking-prevention abilities.
  • Throw your chopped onions and sliced mushrooms into the baking pan. Add salt, pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and mix it all together with your hands. 
  • Make a small space in the center of the veggies. Nestle your goat cheese right in there. It’s okay if the veggies want to snuggle right up to the goat cheese. 
Wouldn’t you like to snuggle up to a nice goat cheese pillow?
  • If you are using garlic, slice across the top of the whole head of garlic with a sharp knife, exposing some of the cloves. Nestle the entire head of decapitated garlic (how can a head itself be decapitated? I trust you understand.) into a corner of the pan.
  • Drizzle everything with another tablespoon or two of olive oil.
  • Drizzle everything with a teaspoon or so of balsamic glaze. Who’s kidding who here. I did not measure. Just drizzle until you feel like you’re done. I did some sloppy crisscrosses and called it good. 
Glazey crisscrosses!

  • Shove the pan into the oven and set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Boil some salted water. I don’t know how much; however much you need to cover however much pasta you use. I used half a box of pasta which turned out to be FAR too much pasta, because I forgot how dramatic mushrooms are. They get very hysterical about being baked and shrink to almost nothing. I would say a quarter of a box of pasta would suffice, if you like your pasta nice and sauce-y.
  • Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook it for two minutes under whatever duration the box recommends.
  • When your pasta is done, drain your pasta BUT RESERVE SOME PASTA WATER. I always reserve way more pasta water than I need, just in case. 
  • Check on your pan at the 25-minute mark. If the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown and your goat cheese is resembling a puddle, it’s probably done. I had to cook mine longer than I thought, but I also accidentally turned off the timer at some point and have no idea how long it actually baked. It could have been 20 minutes, it could have been 30. I considered, at one point, turning the heat up to 450 F for a while, to see if I could caramelize the onions a bit more. But I was concerned about how those little drama queens (mushrooms) might react (burning into charcoal).
The goat cheese looked much more melty in person. Also, the mushrooms are being deceptive here. They still seem plentiful. But they are NOT.
Different view of those now much diminished mushrooms.
  • Remove your pan from the oven and marvel in an irritated way at how drastically your mushrooms have shrunk. 
  • Remove the garlic. Use the tip of a sharp knife to dislodge some of the cloves from their papery outfits and add them back to the pan. I used about 1/5 of the garlic, I’d say, because it seemed like an appropriate amount of garlic for the quantity of mushrooms remaining. Plus, I am going to use roasted garlic in some focaccia this week – I have been saying I would make focaccia for a year and I have NOT DONE IT YET, despite wanting to and planning to and even putting it on my meal plan twice, but THIS IS THE WEEK, it is happening – so I saved the rest of the garlic for that purpose. 
  • Stir everything together. Add some reserved pasta water to achieve the sauce consistency you prefer. 
The goat cheese stirs up so nicely. Far better than FETA, I’m sure.
  • Add some pasta to your pan and stir some more. Add more reserved pasta water if you like. 
Are you beginning, now, to see just how FEW mushrooms remain? It’s like half of them took the day off.
This is it. Even with the pasta, it takes up less than half of the pan. Also, it’s not the most photogenic meal.
  • Put your mixed pasta into a dish. If you are so inclined, add a handful of arugula. 
Now it’s pasta salad! No, just kidding. I do think the arugula adds a nice peppery contrast to the richness of the pasta.
  • Drizzle the bowl with more balsamic glaze. Enjoy!

Will I make this again? I can’t honestly say, at this point. It was tasty! And it was filling! The goat cheese makes it super rich and creamy, so one serving was plenty. It was easy! (Though the mushrooms, all on their own, the prima donnas, make it time consuming.) But on the side of NOT making it again, it is so disheartening to spend eight hours washing and peeling and slicing mushrooms only to have them minify in the oven. How is minify an actual word? I seriously thought I was just being lazy, but it has a dictionary entry and everything. I also wish the onions had had a chance to caramelize a bit more. 

If I made it again, maybe I would have to use EVEN MORE mushrooms. And maybe I would cut them into larger chunks. Using more would increase the amount of prep time… but it might also increase my enjoyment? Hard to say until we try. And we may never try. After all, have we learned nothing from the focaccia intentions?

In all, it was fun to try. It was yummy. And now the recipe has been recorded for posterity. 

The end.

My grocery store seems, on the surface, to be back to pre-pandemic normal – as much yeast and 409 as anyone can ask for – and yet, several items that I have had on my list for weeks remain elusive. My favorite brand of pickles (Clausen; you can get spears but I don’t want spears). The jars of Old El Paso taco seasoning (they do have the packets, but I want the jars. And yes, I know it’s probably better to make my own, and I can and I have, but I just LIKE this specific seasoning and it makes life easier). Eggo frozen pancakes (there were NO frozen pancakes at all this week; nor were there any French toast sticks – just a big yawning gap in the freezer section). Rose’s lime juice is completely out of stock.

I don’t like it. Yes, I acknowledge that these are very specific/specific-to-my-family items, and probably have nothing to do with the pandemic. And yet I haven’t been able to find them in at least two weeks. In fact, it’s probably been longer than that; it’s only once I can’t find something multiple weeks in a row that I really start noticing its absence. 

Perhaps I am feeling a bit anxious given that we are now a year from when the pandemic began. Last March, we had very few cases in my state… but the virus was blowing up in New York and California and Washington and Europe. Friends were cancelling their spring break plans. I had already begun strategically bulking up our stores of emergency supplies. We were preparing to maybe not return to in-person school after spring break. Paper towels were already becoming scarce on the shelves. The echo of those memories is stronger right now, even as spring peeks her cheery head above the winter gloom and news of increasing numbers of vaccinations and new guidelines for gathering together make everything feel full of hope and promise. Hopefully, with time and distance and rising vaccination rates, those echoes will grow fainter still.

But as far as grocery shopping goes, this is how it will be forever, I think: some perfectly ordinary shortage makes me feel disproportionate alarm, triggering a must-hoard-things response. It requires work to squelch this reaction, and sometimes we will be unable to resist the siren song of readily available staples. Today, I was successful. I did not even buy any flour or yeast, even though they were abundant. What I would really like applause for is walking out of the store without olive oil. It was on a HUGE sale – basically, buy one get one half off – and yet I left without even a single bottle. I have FOUR FULL BOTTLES in my cupboard already. I did not need more. I did not buy more.

The only other thing I really wanted that wasn’t available was white asparagus. But there was lots of fresh baby green asparagus in stock, so I bought that instead. Not quite the same thing, but we make do with what we have.

Dinners for the Week of March 9-15

  • Spargelsuppe with Rosemary Garlic Focaccia: I have been nostalgic for spargelsuppe ever since my husband and I ate it a million times during our anniversary trip to Germany and Austria… so I am going to try to make some this week. How can it possibly live up to authentic Bavarian spargelsuppe, or frankly, to my memory? Especially if I have only GREEN asparagus to work with? (Side note: I re-read my post about our trip and now am PINING for travel. Any travel! To any place!) (Will I ever feel comfortable on a plane again? Will I ever want to visit public spaces with other people? Will I ever again experience the joy/pain of walking many miles a day through a European city?)

Follow Up: The asparagus soup was fine. Good, even. But it was not authentic Bavarian spargelsuppe. Well. If I can ever find white asparagus, I will try again; the white asparagus (which makes me think of Bunnicula) is supposedly milder. The focaccia WHICH I DID FINALLY MAKE was a huge disappointment, largely due to user error. This user erred by not reading the recipe in advance, so I had neither the correct flours nor the right size pan. I powered through, though, and the result was edible. But it was much denser than focaccia is supposed to be. I want big pockets of air, and soft, fluffy bread. My version had neither. I also messed up the application of the roasted garlic. I think maybe because my dough was not right? Or maybe I needed to really poke it down into the dough? It all either burned or fell off the top of the focaccia. It is unlikely that I will buy either whole wheat flour or the correct sized pan at any point, so I need to find a new recipe.

  • Lemon Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli: This one-pan recipe just smacks of nutrients, doesn’t it? I fear that means it will be first to be jettisoned from the list if one night I don’t feel like cooking. I discovered some time ago that broccolini is not – for me – worth the price. Too much stringy stalk for the cost, I say. So I will swap out broccoli.
  • Skillet Enchiladas: I saw this on Instagram (I follow three categories of accounts on Instagram: books, workouts, and FOOD) and I immediately bookmarked it. YUM. Of course, I do not own a skillet. So I will be making these the old fashioned way, in a 9 x 13 pan in the oven. 
  • Szechuan Stir Fry: We haven’t had this in awhile and I am in the mood for stir fry.

This is a bit more ambitious than my recent dinner posts… but if I am in the MOOD to cook, then why not DO SO? (Because being in the mood NOW does not guarantee being in the mood later, Self. Have you learned nothing from your years of making dinner?)

What are you eating this week?

Chores Chat

The original subject line of this post was simply “Chores,” but adding “Chat” really takes it from drudgey to cheerful doesn’t it? No? Just me?

It is a dreary, chilly morning, which feels like a betrayal after the sunny warmth of the past few days. I was awake off and on during the night due to horrible nightmares involving my loved ones. I have to go renew my driver’s license, which is on the Top Five list of Things I Enjoy Only Slightly More Than Dental Work. Plus, I have postponed Bathroom Cleaning Monday for no reason at all beyond my absolute gut-twisting hatred of cleaning the shower, and it can be postponed no more.

When we are feeling so dreary, what better topic to tip us right over the edge cheer us is housecleaning?

I scrubbed the floors yesterday, which is a very satisfying chore. My back hurts a bit, though, and I think I once again have chemical burns on my fingers from the bleach, will I ever learn, which is both painful and also somehow apt. “Satisfying” is, of course, a far cry from “enjoyable.” I am trying to think about whether there are any chores I ENJOY. (Are there any chores YOU enjoy?) I suppose I enjoy the results when I clean the kitchen: The gleaming expanse of freshly-scrubbed counters. The shiny reflective surfaces of the stainless steel appliances. Everything ready and waiting for another meal to be made. Which will inevitably upend everything into disaster once again.

My mother was telling me recently about her own mother’s cleaning schedule. Every month they would deep clean the kitchen, which involved emptying out all the cupboards and drawers and scouring them with Murphy’s Oil Soap. EVERY MONTH. I do this… quarterly, maybe, on a good year? Is that horrifying? How often do you do EMPTY your cabinets and wipe them down, inside and out? While we’re at it, how often do you empty your refrigerator and scrub the inside of THAT? I do it far less frequently than I should, even though I have no idea what the Ideal Refrigerator Cleaning Frequency even is. There is possibly some sort of checklist available online, that would tell me exactly what to do when, but I don’t care to be bossed. I will instead remain fretful and slovenly, thank you very much.

Everything I know about cleaning, I learned from my mother. Well, that’s not entirely fair: I learned about dish washing from my father. And about scouring the sink with Soft Scrub. But everything else was my mother’s domain. She was much better about sticking to a strict housecleaning schedule than I am; see above RE: the bathroom cleansing delay. We cleaned the whole house every Saturday. I remember being awakened by the sound of the vacuum. My job was a) cleaning my room and b) dusting. (I also did most of the dishes on the daily, and did my own laundry and ironing. I REFUSE to iron as an adult, but as a middle schooler I ironed my Z-Cavaricci jeans. The heart wants what it wants.)

At some point, I did learn how to scrub a bathroom as well, so I’m sure I helped with that on Cleaning Saturdays. I don’t mind cleaning a toilet, really. And there’s nothing difficult or daunting about wiping down a counter (for me, I recognize and support those for whom it is either or both). By the way, my very best (only?) cleaning tip is to keep a toilet scrubber in EVERY BATHROOM. And if your bathrooms have cabinets, keep a container of toilet cleaner, 409, and a roll of paper towels in each bathroom as well. That way, even if your cleaning supplies are all the way in the laundry room, or you aren’t in the mood to do a Full Cleaning, you can do a quick spot clean and still feel accomplished and virtuous. Hot tips like this keep you coming back, I just know it.

My mother used Endust on a rag to do her dusting, so I also use Endust on a rag to do my own dusting. Swiffer dusters were not available back then, and, frankly, are hugely wasteful although I do still use them on occasion.  I have a Swiffer-style sweeper with reusable pads for the floors. We had hardwood floors in the kitchen, so my mother never scrubbed the grout (no grout to be had). But she did use some sort of Pledge-type liquid to mop the floors until they shone. I use Mr. Clean on my hardwood floors because a housekeeper requested it specifically, and then I kept buying it whenever it was on sale, and now we have more Mr. Clean than any one person should. Bleach is my best friend in the bathrooms, and when it comes to cleaning the grout. I like vinegar and baking soda – or baking soda and Dawn – when it comes to cleaning my sinks. I love 409 for counter tops. Who knew adulthood would mean amassing so many Preferred Cleaning Items?

I suppose How to Properly Clean a House is an important life lesson for a child, and sometimes I fret (because I will literally fret about anything) about whether I am On Track in teaching Carla how to keep a house. What kinds of cleaning chores do your kids do? Or, if you don’t have kids, what were your housecleaning responsibilities as a child? 

Carla’s main jobs are tidying: She must make her bed every morning. She must clean her room once a week. She must pick up any toys she leaves out, although this is a moving target; right now, for instance, there is a bunch of play-doh and various play-doh tools out on the kitchen table, which shows you both how good I am at enforcing her tidying responsibilities and how often we eat together at the table. 

I also have Carla zoop the floors on occasion. Most of the kitchen debris comes from her (at what age do children stop shedding crumbs?), so it seems only fair that she help dispose of it. She also has to clear, rinse, and place her breakfast and dinner dishes. And, if we eat together, she clears, rinses, and places ALL the dishes. This is a very pleasing improvement in her Skills and Abilities, now that she is seven. She is responsible for putting away her folded laundry. Sometimes, if she is in The Right Mood, she will help me dust. I especially appreciate her dusting skills when it comes to wiping down the banister and stairwell baseboards.

When I was a kid, I also had to clean out the barn. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed that chore. I would crank up the country radio station and get out a big, stiff-bristled broom, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow, and remove all the manure from the barn to the shelter belt. Talk about a satisfying chore. You had the pleasure of not only seeing something go from filthy to clean, but also the satisfaction of pleasingly sore muscles. And it was nice to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. The horses did not enjoy it as much, sometimes nudging over the wheelbarrow in defiance or pushing past me to dirty the newly cleaned floor with an abundance of scorn. 

My husband does most of the vacuuming, and he takes care of the bathroom floors. (He can vacuum the entire house and clean all the bathroom floors before I finish cleaning the kitchen.) (I suspect that he does not move the furniture to vacuum under it, but one can only ask for so much.) (He will vacuum under the couch cushions if I remind him.) He also does the VAST MAJORITY of the laundry folding, for which I am deeply grateful. I excel at washing clothes, and sometimes even putting them in the dryer, and sometimes even moving the clean, dry clothes up to the laundry room guest room. But unless I am VIGILANT about folding the clothes immediately, I grow overwhelmed and dizzy and choose to shut the door on the ever-growing pile until it threatens to take over the house or my daughter runs out of underwear, whichever comes first. My husband, on the other hand, is never daunted by a mountainous tangle of clothes. He LIKES to fold, and listens to music while doing so, and it takes him SUCH a short time I think he is a magician every time he does it. He is also very good at the mechanics of folding: his shirts are always creased just so and identical in size, a feat I have never been able to master. 

Folding laundry is one thing. But my most hated chore, by far, is cleaning the shower. It requires scrubbing, which is physically draining. Plus, since it’s a small shower with a sliding glass door, it requires some bodily contortions that I don’t love. Plus, rinsing the shower always results in my shirt and socks becoming completely sodden. Plus, it is impossible to get every single bit of either the doors or the track on which they slide fully clean. PLUS I cannot handle hair in a drain. I JUST CANNOT HANDLE IT. Hair on a head, fine. Hair anywhere else, I will pass out or throw up or both.

Well, I had hoped that talking about chores would get me all fired up to go do some cleaning. It has not had that effect. Perhaps you will share what your favorite/most hated chores are, and/or what the breakdown of chores is in your househould, and/or your Hot Tips for cleaning. In the meantime, I am going to trudge up to the bathroom anyway and see if I can clean the shower without getting totally soaked.

All our snow is gone. It melted over the rainy weekend. We are getting more sun, more frequently. And it is MARCH. I am GIDDY with the anticipation of spring. Normally, I love winter. And we ended up making the most out of this winter, spending a LOT of time outside and with friends (all masked of course; it’s sad that I still feel the need to add this assurance, but such is life in these mask-divisive days). So I am definitely sad to see it go. BUT I am delighted that spring is around the corner. (My husband, the killjoy realist, advocates caution around getting too excited for spring; it’s only March, he says, very reasonably; we could still have plenty of winter yet.) (Carla and I drove through a brief blizzard on the way home.) (NOTHING STUCK.) Spring means warm weather! It means meeting friends for walks in the park! It means firing up the outdoor heater and having friends OVER TO OUR BACKYARD! It means increasing spans of sunshine. It means increasing numbers of vaccination. It means we are moving ever closer to whatever “normal” will mean once most people are vaccinated. I AM EXCITED. 

My meal plan for this week doesn’t particularly reflect spring, though. It still reflects a person who requires hearty stews and warm bread. That’s okay. We can hold onto the pleasurable bits of winter a bit longer.

Dinners for the Week of March 1-March 8

  • Mulligatawny Soup and Miracle No-Knead BreadBecause I have mirepoix already portioned out and frozen, this meal is SO SIMPLE. And delicious. The only thing I have to think about is mixing the bread ingredients the night before. Everything else is easy peasy.
  • Slow Cooker BBQ Pork Tenderloin with Baked Potato: I guess my theme for the week is Easy Meals? Doesn’t get much simpler than rough-chopping an onion, dumping it into the slow cooker with a pork tenderloin and some BBQ sauce, and letting it cook down into fall-apart perfection. 
  • Chickpea Bowls: We haven’t had these in awhile and these are the perfect intersection of hearty and spicy. I add a bunch of bell peppers and a chicken breast when I make this for dinner. Maybe I will make a double portion so I can have some for lunches as well.
  • Hungarian Mushroom Soup: This is a recipe my husband recommended; he so rarely puts forth a dinner option that I tend to leap on the rare suggestions with great enthusiasm. This soup sounds kind of stroganoff-esque. It does require fresh parsley, though. I ABHOR parsley, but my husband and I talked it out and I am going to BUY PARSLEY and CHOP IT UP and PUT IT VOLUNTARILY into the soup. We’ll see what happens. 
  • Some sort of salad we can dip into all week: Not a whole lot of veggies happening this week, so I think I will get some lettuce and some easy toppings (cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, scallions) so we can have side salads should the mood strike.

What are you eating this first week of March?