Food: 50% off Ground-Chicken Meatloaf – and being not enough

Dear ones, full disclosure before you read any further: (Or, if you’re not into disclosure, full or otherwise, skip on down 1000 words to the red headline: CHICKEN MEATLOAF) A friend told me she enjoyed my food blog posts; on Twitter I mentioned using chicken to make a meatloaf and a number of people inquired about it; I’m super-ANNOYED having hit my weight-loss plateau number, the one past which I always have trouble and hell to the yes, I am having uber-trouble losing these last ten pounds, or, even, one of them; I’ve wanted to do a personal blog entry about all of that and more, my issues, of which there are many, always, but those posts are such duds when it comes to people reading them and the world is in such an uproar I’ve been avoiding really delving into my heart-issues since doing so causes me anxiety and anger and ranting and terror — and that’s no good; reviewing my posts I see it’s been two months since I’ve food blogged and nearly as long since I’ve done a personal blog, and so, trying to be clever and serve up what others want while serving my own needs as well, I thought, “Charlie, why not combine the personal with the food, because food, cooking, it’s terribly, wonderfully personal.”

Today I’m feeling inferior and undeserving of the title “Food Blogger” because I’m not Peg Bracken, Laurie Colwin, M.F.K. Fisher, or Patience Gray — I’m an accidental, out of necessity chef(ish) — something I fell into, like most everything else I’ve done in my life.

So, this is a personal food blog. I can’t promise whether it will be terribly or wonderfully so, or some combination of the two but, now look, I certainly don’t make a living writing, but still, I consider myself a writer: My dear, departed aunt, Sissie, told me when I was very young that I was meant to be a writer — so, I’m a writer. Truth, I never made a living acting or singing, nor a real living by teaching acting, but I always considered myself an actor, singer, and teacher too.

Point being, you don’t have to be paid or famous to be something. For my whole life I’ve been doing things for which I never got a title, never got famous, never got paid much; it started in second grade when I was so far ahead in every subject the nuns assigned me troubled first graders to tutor; in fourth grade my Catholic school closed and when I was sent to the public school I was so far ahead of all the other fourth graders, fifth graders, and sixth graders, I was instantly a pariah to students and teachers and ended up spending three years learning nothing in a class room, serving as almost full-time aide to the wonderful Mrs. Lyles, the librarian, who taught me her job, and, too, all about life; when she was out sick, I, not yet 12, was left in charge of the library. No lie.

My life has been a mostly accidental one in just that way; I fell into teaching, I fell into counseling, I fell into health insurance, I fell into feather-hat-band making, I fell into government survey data collection, I fell into house and pet-sitting, I fell into theatre-reviewing and copywriting, I fell a lot. It happened without me noticing much; if there was a place in someone’s life or the universe that needed filling, and I was there, I filled it. If someone needed something, someone, a service, a fix, an ear, a safe place, someone or something to depend on, I answered the need; I was bred to it.

Now, here’s my secret, or, well, it’s hardly a secret to anyone who’s paid much attention to me, but, like Dorothy’s Scarecrow (Yes, I am equating myself with a Friend of Dorothy), I’ve always felt inferior and un-deserving and a fraud because no institution has ever bestowed upon me a piece of paper saying I could call myself something — don’t get me wrong, lack of a diploma/degree isn’t the only factor in my feeling inferior, (and that ‘s a too-long discussion about why I’m akin to the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, too) but, it’s rather huge in the world in which we operate, and because of it, I have always been uncomfortable asking to be paid what the work I’m doing is probably worth, or, even, part of what I’m worth, or, in fact, asking to be paid at all.

Which is a 700 word exordium to explain the “50% off” part of the title: I’m bad with money. Well, I’m good with spending it, but bad with getting it, managing it. I made a very intense effort once and saved quite a lot, but because I am weak-willed and always trying to answer someone’s gaping — or, in this case, grasping — need, all of that was emptied into the coffers of someone’s folly. And I had — for me — a reasonably healthy bank balance in November, but unexpected circumstances, holiday cooking (cookies aren’t cheap to bake, you know) and Mom’s 90th birthday party and groceries when one is on a diet or entertaining visiting relatives and just a general conflagration of that’s the way the ball bounces (or deflate) life-events have left me a few thousand dollars short of where I planned to be, needed to be, to make it through the next few months without worrying.

And now, that’s 900 words to say, while trying to keep my bank balance above the minimum required before a service charge is added on, I shop at a lot of grocery stores, keeping track of sale flyers and unadvertised specials, and buying meat that is at its “sell by” date, which Safeway discounts by 50%. Thus, I had a few pounds of frozen ground chicken I needed to use.

I decided to make up a meatloaf. No recipe. My own creation, using other things I had in the pantry or refrigerator. And, here is that recipe.

CHICKEN MEATLOAF (Charlie’s Own 50% Off-Today Solution)

Dieting sucks. So, I try to keep it interesting for my sister and myself by coming up with new recipes and creative ways of preparing flavorful but low-calorie dishes. Not every one works, but this one was a real hit. Not just with us, but with my very picky great-nephew who raved and raved about this. I didn’t tell him what was in it or he’d never have taken the first bite.

INGREDIENTS

1 lb ground chicken
6 oz. jarred/canned sliced mushrooms (or fresh)
1 large onion, chopped
1 oz. pork rinds, ground to crumbs
15 oz. can of beets, cut or cubed or whatevered
4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 tbs. steak sauce (I used A1)
1 tbs. garlic powder
1 tbs. cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 (or, in mine, 325)

These are the onions, beets, and pork rinds, the sizes to which I reduced them.

Now then, mix all the ingredients together in a too large bowl. I use huge pasta bowl — which, by the buy I got for a steal of $10 at my local Habitat for Humanity seconds-shop, cleverly called ReStore [click HERE] where you can find crazy good furniture and housewares and appliances and tools for amazing prices and be doing GOOD while getting GOODS (or, if you’re not a housewares hoarder like I might be, you can just click the above link and make a donation)— where was I? Oh, right, I use a HUGE pasta bowl to mix things because one needs to really go at a meatloaf mix with vigor, use the pounding and blending process to get out your fury at the assholes running the country right now, or the guy not returning your messages after you gave him the best fifteen minutes of your quickly evaporating life or — anyway, I digress (again — SURPRISE!), you need to use your hands and deep-massage to really get every ingredient feeling all cozy and as one with the others, an orgy of flavors.

I considered adding a tomato product — ketchup, pasta sauce, marinara, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste — but, part of my diet food creative process is to cut back on ingredients so I’ve the fewest calories possible in a meal and still have an interesting taste. I was banking on the beets, steak sauce, and Worcestershire sauce — all of which are pretty low in calories — to add enough kick and flavor that I didn’t need the extra calories and sugars in tomato based products.

Like I said, NOT PRETTY. But it gets better with baking. Not a lot, but some — which is why I added gravy for serving. See picture of meal.

I was right. This was pretty delicious. But, not pretty pretty. Once you’ve got a nice even blend — the mushrooms I left large so they’d be visible while I wanted to hide the beets from the great-nephew, so I hid them by small-cubing — you shape it into a loaf-ish shape in a shallow but not too shallow (and isn’t that the state to which we all aspire?) baking dish which you’ve pre-sprayed with vegetable oil based greasy, no-stick in a spray-can stuff.

NOW — I had a busy day that day, so I did all this in the early afternoon and threw it into the refrigerator where it rested for a few hours. I think MOST recipes with lots of ingredients/flavors you want to blend are better after a few hours solitary confinement in the refrigerator. Cookie dough for sure.

When it’s getting close to dinner time, cook in a preheated 350 oven (or, 325 in mine) for about an hour. Turn off the oven, open the door part way, and let it sit in there for another 15 minutes.

The baked loaf — well, 1/4 of the baked loaf, and as you can see, it’s not quite baby-piglet pink, but still, not the desired meat shade of tanned Italian gigolo either. So, add some sauce — I find a little sauce makes everything look better, don’t you?

Because the meatloaf is still less than gorgeous after cooking — since no one enjoys a meat dish looking undercooked or lumpy or smushed together — all descriptions which have recently been used to describe me — I slathered some store-jarred (sorry) mushroom gravy on. It’s only about 40 calories a quarter cup, and worth it. Along with that I served asparagus and bacon-scalloped potatoes. which (sorry) I whipped up from a box because they were on sale two for a dollar and, I told you, I’m a few thousand dollars down in the bank account department. I added things to the potatoes — onions, garlic, some additional cheese, and used cream rather than milk and water (I know, all added calories, but, without them the taste would have been too bland) and they were sort of delicious, and, that night, honestly, I told you already, I was in a hurry.

The finished product: Asparagus, Potatoes, Meatloaf slathered with mushroom gravy.

So, there we have it. Actually, calories-wise, the entire meal was under 650 and my sister and great-nephew raved and raved about it. Not a lot of trouble. Plenty of deliciousness, and even better warmed up. Alas, there was not enough to make a sandwich with, besides which, I haven’t had bread since January and yet I STILL can’t lose this last ten pounds.

But, putting personal issues aside — which, in my case, requires a storage unit — if a fellow who’s a pretend chef, who’s pretending to be a writer, can use his pretend money to amalgamate low-cal and half-price ingredients into a tasty, sort-of-healthy dinner the likes of which Peg Bracken might not find too embarrassing, then, my friends, we can all live to see another day and maybe feel like — for just a few minutes anyway while people are exclaiming over the deliciousness of the dish — that we are, maybe, ENOUGH, well, will I let the fact that 45 is baiting foreign powers to blow us to bits and all the noise and turmoil of the world depress me? NYET, Comrade. (Practicing for after the next election.)

So, dear ones, here I am, going. Love and Light and big bargain bowls to all of you.

FOOD: Cauliflower-Cremini Marinara; But First, A Culinary Autodidact Babbles

Before I get to the recipes, a little “singer” of an introduction — and a warning.

Today’s main ingredients.

After a scientific three hour Twitter polling process during which I asked whether or not I ought to start food blogging and received ten or so responses, here I am, going, semi-anew, with more frequent food-centric entries as complement to my book-centric and self-indulgent-navel-gazing-existential-ranting entries (Acronym for which is SINGERS. Hah!).

Note to newbies, even when writing about Books and Food, there is likely to be at least a soupcon of Singer-tone. I’ve been singing since I was a child in both the existential-ranting sense as well as on-stages far and wide, big and small — mostly small.

Which brings me to the autodidact-ism issue.

I left high school shortly after I turned 16, left home and was living on my own by 17 — neither of which leavings were entirely voluntary, and since then I have spent a life wandering and wondering, falling into and out of things and occupations, up until a few years ago no matter what else I was doing, I was also always making theatre as performer, director, producer, and for many years as teacher and coach, all without formal training or degree, my methods and madnesses untutored and often unconventional. I used the same naif approach when I was reviewing theatre and writing weekly Rants&Raves columns for an on-line publication.

My approach to work, creating, life, love, joy, is not so much a method as a Meth-head: I invite the energy into me and see what kid of trip it takes me on.

My adventures in cooking are much the same. As I used to tell my acting students and actors; I’m not here to make you into a star; I’m here to share how I became the best me I can be today, and, I hope, give you the courage and example and safe-space to open your doors to yourself to help you find your best you every day — not just on stage, but everywhere.

So, I’m not a chef. I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian or chemist. I’ve no medical background — unless you count the hours I have spent in various doctors’ offices and labs for myself and ferrying around and advocating for others. I do guess at the calories of my recipes as best I can because I’m trying to eat healthier and cleaner so as to maybe, somehow, a little bit, relieve myself of the ever-morphing symptoms of this mystery immune-system malfunction I’ve been struggling with for the past three years — that said, my calorie counts are unscientific guesses. I don’t always use organic or gluten-free, and am far from gourmet or fancy; if I could, I would regularly have sandwiches of Spam or Cheez-Whiz and potato chips, hors d’oeuvres  of EasyCheese slathered on Chicken-in-a-Biskit crackers, and — well, you get the picture. My palate is neither sophisticated nor rarefied.

I just cook. Because I love it. I love making things for other people. I love screwing around with recipes and seeing what happens. I’m not here to teach you how to cook, I’m here to share my Meth-heads, inviting the energy of the food and the day into your meals, trusting your gut, and GOING! So, here we are.

Now, enough with the SINGER, on to the cooking!

CAULIFLOWER-CREMINI MARINARA

If I could have pasta and pizza all the time, I would. Alas, I am of an age and a blood pressure that I need to watch my carbs, and since I also live with and cook for a diabetic, I am always searching for less-unhealthy ways to approximate pasta and sauce. Cauliflower, all the rage now, is low in calories and carbs, great for diabetics, and full of vitamin C. And I’ve always liked it. Granted, when growing up it was boiled to mushiness then served with a few slices of yellow cheese slapped on top. But here I am, purportedly a grown-up, and although Velveeta now makes cheese slices which would PERFECTLY complement an over-done head of cauliflower, a fellow has to compromise. So, here’s my take on using a good for you vegetable used to make a not so good for you sauce a bit healthier.

Ingredients: For roasted cauliflower
One medium head cauliflower broken into florets
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled divided into rounds
4-8 garlic cloves (up to you) peeled, crushed, & chopped
pinch red pepper
dash salt
two dashes black pepper
thyme – I used dried because I had no fresh, used about 3 tsp
Ingredients for sautéed mushrooms
12-16 ounces cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper
Italian Seasoning — maybe a tablespoon, I just throw it in till I feel like stopping
¼ cup red wine
Ingredients for completing marinara
28oz can tomato sauce
14.5oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups liquid (I used 1 cup chicken broth, 1 cup beef bone broth because that’s what was in my pantry)
½ tsp anchovy paste
2 tsp double concentrate tomato paste
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp oregano
3 tsp basil
1 tbs Italian seasoning

Cauliflower, onions, garlic prepped, and oil and spices before whisking. And Her Grace, Duchess Goldblatt, watching o’er me.

ROASTING THE CAULIFLOWER
Set oven to 400 degrees.
Gently separate the cauliflower into florets, putting florets in colander, wash them thoroughly.
Peel your garlic cloves, smash under blade of chef’s knife, then chop well. I used 8 garlic cloves today. Some days, depending on who it is I’m cooking for I might use more or less. You know how much garlic you and yours like, so use your cooking intuition.
Peel 2 medium onions, slice and break into rounds as if you were going to make onion rings.
In a largish bowl combine olive oil, red pepper, salt, and thyme. Whisk well. Empty the cauliflower, garlic, and onions into the bowl and toss until everything is beautifully coated. The aroma will already have you in near ecstasy and we haven’t even put it in the oven yet.
You can now either use a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, or a nice lasagna size casserole which is what I did because I love my Martha Stewart cookware. It’s a thing. Now put it in the 400 degree oven and let it roast for 30 minutes, then get it out and flip it around, and put it back in oven for another 15 to 30 minutes depending on your oven and how roasted brown you like your cauliflower.

Cauliflower after roasting. I might have gone a little browner some days, but today, this was just right.

WHY ROAST THE CAULIFLOWER? I’ll tell you why I decided to do so for this recipe; because I am a meat-lover trying to heal myself of my addiction to the flesh (This could go any number of ways ugly at any second, but I’ll try to control myself — which is becoming a theme, yes? Damn getting older.) I wanted to bring out the deepest flavor in the cauliflower, a richness and almost sweet earthiness that comes with roasting it along with the onions and garlic, creating a really savory flavor with lots of layers. Honestly, once I got this out of the oven, I could just have served this as a main course it was so delicious. You might try that!

These are the mushrooms at the sweating stage, almost ready to add the wine.

MEANWHILE THE CREMINIS
As the cauliflower is roasting, it’s time to saute the mushrooms. Begin, of course, by washing them, then slicing them nicely into flat mushroomy looking flats. Put a nice splash of olive oil into a skillet large enough to put all the mushrooms in one layer and have the skillet on medium heat. I sprinkle the shrooms with salt, pepper, and some Italian seasoning — again, you know how much seasoning you like, so use your own judgement and imagination — try other spices, experiment. Cooking should be fun, an adventure. And honestly, it’s not that easy to ruin food — you have to really try. Many of my experiments have turned out less than delicious, but, they were almost all edible — with the exception of a very unfortunate sweet potato pie where I accidentally used gravy instead of sweet potato in the filling, don’t ask — and trial and error is how we learn almost everything in life. You have to be hands on, reading about it just isn’t the same — take sex for example. What? Oh, right, wrong blogging category. I’ll catch you up later. Where was I?

Adding the wine. When it comes to the nectar of the grape, the fruit of the vine, the nectar of the fruit, I like to have Her Grace looking on to let me know if I’m going wrong.

Right, okay, the mushrooms are now sauteing, and eventually it will be time to add the wine. How will you know when it’s time? I’ll tell you. The mushrooms will begin to soften, and after a bit, maybe ten minutes or so of being gently stirred and warmed and tossed, they will begin to sweat, and release their liquid essence into the pan, at which point you’ll know you’ve successfully exhausted them, you’ve both gotten what you’ve wanted, and it’s time for a drink. Pour in the wine. And, although I’m not a day drinker, or, even, for the most part, a night drinker, I wouldn’t judge you if you had a little nip yourself. You’re bigger than a mushroom, so have more than a quarter cup.

Now, you want to leave the mushrooms wallowing in the wine until they’ve sucked it all up. This doesn’t take long, maybe ten minutes. Watch carefully though, you want to catch them JUST when the pan is dry, don’t let them cook a second longer than that moment of total absorption.

FINISHING THE MARINARA
Okay, so, the mushrooms are drunk and the cauliflower is full-on roasted with its buddies, onion and garlic. What have you been doing while the mushrooms were sauteing and the cauliflower roasting? You’ve been filling a large saucepan with the rest of the ingredients listed above under Ingredients For Completing Marinara. Now, let me explain what I used and why.

What was in my pantry because they were once, somewhere, on sale.

HOW I CHOOSE INGREDIENTS FOR MY CREATIONS
I live on a pretty tight budget, so when staples I know I am going to someday use go on sale, I buy them. My pantry always has a collection of canned tomato products, from sauces to diced to crushed to flavored to paste to whatever I’ve found on sale and had some extra budget for at one of the seven grocery stores from which I peruse flyers and which I regularly visit looking for unadvertised specials; Giant Eagle, Safeway, Food Lion, Weis, Giant, Aldi’s, and I am ashamed and sorry to admit, WalMart. I used to shop now and then at Wegman’s until that unpleasant New Year’s Eve incident where they sent the police to my house, after which I have boycotted them — and, well, they stopped mailing me circulars, too, so it seemed best. In any event, I chose today’s tomato products from that collection — you can easily use others, whatever you have, whatever you like — hell, were it farmers’ market season I’d have used fresh tomatoes.

Everything’s in. Let it come to a boil then reduce heat to simmer, let it do so for hours — I waited six, but more or less is fine. The longer it cooks, the deeper the flavors and the sense of layer after layer of taste.

As far as the two cups of liquid — that too was arbitrary. I could just as well have used vegetable broth, or my own chicken stock which I have some of in the freezer, or water. It’s up to you and about what you like, how closely you watch your sodium, if you’re vegan, etcetera. Your choice. Too, you might want to use more liquid than I did. I happen to like my marinara very thick so that it’s almost a chili-like texture, but if you want it to go further, to be a thinner consistency, again — this is YOUR dish once you start making it. I’m sharing my version, you should have your own.

And speaking of my version, the anchovy paste. I happen to LOVE anchovies but I know lots of people don’t. In fact, some of the people who were here tonight for dinner claim to hate anchovies. So, I didn’t tell them the ingredients. Here’s the thing, the balsamic vinegar works in conjunction with the anchovies to give the sauce a bite, a little kick, an acid-y sort of “OH MY HEAVENS THAT IS AMAZING” kind of sensation without having an actual anchovy-ish taste. But, if you don’t want to buy anchovy paste, I get it, so don’t use it, but if you don’t use the anchovy paste, I wouldn’t use the balsamic vinegar either.

Now, you’ve dumped all this into the pan, add the roasted cauliflower, onion, and garlic, toss in the drunken mushrooms, and do some mashing. I did it with a holey spoon but a potato masher would work just as well. I suppose some people would use an immersion blender to make a smoother sauce, but I wanted a texture to better approximate the feel of a meaty sauce. And, it worked.

So, turn the burner on medium and let the sauce come to a boil and then immediately turn heat down to the very lowest simmer and let it cook for hours. I left mine on for six hours before we ate but either more or less would be fine. Just know, the reason for roasting the cauliflower and sauteing the mushrooms in wine, and using different flavors of liquid, various pastes and spices, is to create really deep and cooperating layers of flavor, and the longer the sauce simmers, the more intense and wedded the flavors, all those parts becoming a beautiful and delicious new whole.

My ingredients yielded about 8 cups of sauce.

Dinner is served; marinara beside a generous cup of spaghetti squash, and with those, a salad of fruit and light veggies, a refreshing contrast to the delicious but heavy main course.

DINNER IS SERVED
So, it’s time to serve the sauce. On what? Well, I used spaghetti squash because — much as I’d like to — I can’t have pasta every day. Or, in fact, lately, ANY day. And the spaghetti squash was fine. Easy to do. Cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano. Turn cut side down in roasting pan (I used the same one in which I’d roasted cauliflower) and put in 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour. Check it after 30, ovens vary wildly. Too, you can pour some water in the bottom of the pan, it steams it some and makes it softer. Once you get it out of oven and scrape it from shell into a bowl, feel free to throw in a little yogurt butter and some spice of your choosing — maybe just a little salt, that’s all I added today since the marinara was so flavorful, and toss well.

I served a cup of spaghetti squash next to a cup of the sauce and by my surely flawed count, this was about 250 – 300 calories total. And delicious. Really, really good. I also served a salad of romaine, strips of cucumber, tomato wedges, and cantaloupe, all garnished with chopped, fresh basil, and in one corner, a tablespoon of pesto, and in another corner, a tablespoon of ranch dressing. Pretty tasty and a nice, refreshing complement to the richness of the sauce.

AND I MADE IT!
By which I mean, I made this recipe, I made this dinner, and I made it through my first formal cooking blog. Thanks for sticking with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride, I hope if you try this recipe you’ll love it as much as I did, and I hope — most of all — you’ll be emboldened to try your own experiments and cook from the heart.

And now, here I am, going.

 

 

 

 

A Smith, not I, but Stevie (and Blackberry Cobbler recipe)

This is the beauty from the parking lot outside the bedroom window of my apartment, what I saw tonight as I was emptying the trash and recycling. I stopped and recorded it. I breathed it in. I am healing by noting beauty. One has to, I have to, because the day began badly — in a week of days not going so well.

Anyway, because I’m not Tweeting, here I am, telling you where it is I’m going.

I can’t remember how I became fascinated by Stevie Smith, though I’ve a shadowy recollection of Glenda Jackson in a film in the late 1970s, which I know would have triggered me because Glenda always reminded me of my aunt, Sissie, both of them tall, thin, patrician, and striking not because of classic beauty, but because they lived so inside of who they were, they owned their spaces, and they radiated an intelligence and ability to see you, to see through you, to the you of you.  Too, Sissie loved poetry, had wanted to be a poet like Edna St. Vincent Millay. Also, anything to do even vaguely with me she thought fantastic, so the fact that Stevie’s father was named Charles Smith and ran away to sea, well, like I said, I don’t remember how I became fascinated with Stevie Smith and her work other than this amorphous, near fantasy — not unlike many other so-called memories I have — that can best be summed up by the phrase, “Oh, Sissie gave me that.”

But, even so, I can’t tell you why I picked up my Stevie Smith collection, All The Poems, today, or why it flipped open to Not Waving but Drowning, but, there it was and here it is:

 

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

 

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

 

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

 

It is no secret I experience depression. Lately, the conflagration of news, the attempts to legislate hate and undo decades of struggle for equality, coupled with troubling personal events, and a slowly creeping decline — physical and mental — I am noticing more and more the loss of words, names, things I once knew are now out of reach in some synaptic abyss, and the failure of my body when asked to perform, well, the thing is, as little success as I am having fighting these things off, I am having even less success accepting that this is how I am aging, this is where I am, going — these disturbances in my field dragoon me into dark corners of my soul and psyche, where all the memories I can access — the loudest voices — are those of despairing and failure and should have and didn’t and why not and … you get it.

And I know this is part of my chemical imbalance and a decades long pattern (shared by most of my family, especially my Mom) of self-destructive, self-denigrating thinking, and I know a large measure of it is self-pity, and I know I must interrupt it. But being called to Stevie Smith this morning, and connecting Stevie to Sissie as I always have, seemed as if Sissie was saying, “I get that your heart is giving way, sweetheart (She often called me Sweetheart, along with calling me her Miracle), and I see you not waving, but drowning.”

I also know she would say, “Swim.” And so, I did. I am.

I started collapsing yesterday with the news about SCOTUS seeming to be leaning toward allowing religion to be used as a basis for bigotry, it seems they might be siding with the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because it went against his religious beliefs, and this, the day after SCOTUS had refused to hear a case where LGBTQ people were denied benefits by an employer, thus allowing that hate to stand. All of which was added on to the flood of abusers and predators being exposed, and DEFENDED by the gop and —-okay, this recap isn’t helping. I was crying, a lot, because the world in which all this is happening and the hate and fear at its foundation terrifies and saddens me.

So, as a matter of self-preservation, I have again instituted as much a media blackout as I can. I have stayed away from Twitter because the daily horrors of the fascist regime and its supporters creep into my timeline. So, in addition to blocking out the noise of hate, today I did those things that make me feel useful, doing little somethings within my ability that I might bring joy to the world, one person at a time. I did laundry (second day in a row) to most especially refresh the holiday bed-sheets that I and my sister sleep on. See:

My sister’s room

My room — see the books?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to do this at 5:30 this morning as I was leaving for the gym because few things are more comforting than knowing you will be going to bed on freshly laundered, crisply stretched sheets, so on my way out the door I told my sister — who sleeps as little and as badly as I do — not to make her bed today. Clean sheets. Glorious.

In addition, I have three books I’ve been told are good to great and I am really looking forward to them. You’ll note they’re arranged on my bed waiting for me. But just in case you can’t zoom:

I can’t wait to start one of these three. You might wonder why I didn’t already, I mean, it doesn’t take all day to go to the gym, do the laundry, change the sheets. Nope. I also went to the grocery store — three times, because my dear nephew, Connor, was coming for our regular Wednesday dinner — which I’ve missed for the last few weeks — so I was super excited to cook for him. I found at grocery store number one that blackberries were on super sale. I got two pints for five dollars, and, lo and behold, in the next aisle,blackberry preserves were on clearance! A sign. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with all the blackberry-ness, but I knew it, like Stevie Smith, was calling to me today. Waving, NOT drowning. And I made this:

It’s a cobbler. Kind of. Ish.

It’s a cobbler, sort of ish. Ha. I kind of make things up. I am being frugal chef, trying to spend as little as possible at the grocery store and making delights from what’s on hand here, especially if it’s been hanging around for a while. So, here’s what I did — and I warn you, I am NOT a measuring kind of guy (at least when it comes to recipe ingredients) and tend, even when I do measure, to say, “Hmmm, I think I need to throw a bit more in.” So, uhm, if you try to make this, throw whatever feels right into it, and trust.

I turned my oven on, 350 degrees — my oven runs hot, so that’s probably really 375-400. I got a ten inch, deep dish pie plate out and sprayed it with cooking spray, then rubbed it, bottom and sides, liberally, with three tablespoons of butter, leaving the excess chunks in the pie plate.

Next, I dumped in two pints of rinsed blackberries and an eight ounce container of blackberry preserves. I tossed in a bit of cornstarch — probably a tablespoon? — and a capful of vanilla, which I’m guessing, by the time I dribbled it and thought, “Oh, maybe a smidge more,” was probably a tablespoon. Then I added a glug of Chambord Liqueur. Yes. I did. And then I opened my sugar canister and threw in a handful. Yep. That’s all I can tell you, a handful.

Now, throw that in the oven. I’d say it stays in about 20 minutes while you do the following;

Throw about a cup or so of flour — I used bread flour because that’s what I have right now, a handful of sugar, about a teaspoon of baking soda, and two (or a little more, probably) of baking powder, a dash of salt because you dash salt into everything, and whisk that all together so it’s nice and mixed evenly.

Then, in another bowl, stir up about three-quarters of a stick of butter which I’d melted (20 seconds at a time in the microwave until it’s liquid) and thrown in the fridge a while so it cooled, maybe half a cup of buttermilk (I use powdered buttermilk and mix up what I need rather than buy actual buttermilk because I always end up throwing it out and it’s pricey, or, you can just add some lemon juice to regular milk and curdle it a little), and maybe a teaspoon of vanilla (although, if I make it again, I might try almond flavoring — use what you want, it’s your cobbler — almond would be SUPER if you used peaches instead of blackberries) — and once it’s all nice and stirred and pretty, pour it into the flour mixture.

Now, wooden spoon it until it’s almost a dough, and then use your hands to finish it, kneading and flipping and working a bit. Then, I rolled it into a long snake, cut it in half, cut each half in half, and then halved each of those. That’s eight pieces.

It had been twenty minutes, so I took the bubbling fruit from the oven and shaped/rolled the eight pieces into balls and dropped them evenly around the hot, delicious smelling, alcohol tinged fruit mixture. Then, I poured some sugar in a bowl — I don’t know, maybe two or three tablespoons, and sprinkled in some cinnamon until I got a nice light tan color and I sprinkled that LIBERALLY over the dough balls and, honestly, the rest of the fruit showing too. I sprinkled that whole sucker with that cinnamon sugar.

Back into the oven where I left it for 17 minutes which was TOO LONG. Try 13. But, even though  I thought the biscuit-y portion too brown, my sister and nephew both said it was one of the best desserts ever. Probably didn’t hurt that I threw some vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream on top of the warm cobbler.

It makes eight servings (duh!) and it RADIATES love.

It was good today to take care of my family. It was good today to try NOT to listen to any news. It was good today to stay away from Twitter — even though I love so many people there. It was good today to feel my aunt near me, even if the route to blackberry cobbler was a circuitous one traveling round a poem about a fellow whose heart, too long cold, too far out, no longer beat — it was a good day to make it through the day and cry only a few times, and feel lonely and rejected only briefly at the gym this morning, and I am always fine.

I know this. I am not drowning. I am waving. Sometimes, dear ones, I go too far out into the deep, but I am not going under, I really am out here, this is me, waving at you, I’m not able to go under, dear ones, because I am a witch, a miracle, a sorcerer of blackberries and kindnesses and making things better and now, dear ones, I want to change into my sweats, cuddle in my clean sheets, and decide which book I’ll start tonight.

Love from out here. And Light (I always have enough of both to spare, if ever you need it. I can always be reached.) and here I am, going.

 

Cooking: Decadent Chocolate Cake

The two layers after being de-panned, cooling on rack.

I’ve made a lot of cakes over the years, experimented with many recipes and methods, measuring exact weights and following every direction, working from scratch or using mixes with additions, doing lots of tweaking and playing and adjusting on instinct and in desperation. While I have sometimes been happy enough with the results, I have never been satisfied; until now.

What follows is my recipe for Decadent Chocolate Cake. And, as usual with me, there are lots of notes and caveats.Baking is an art and about personal expression, so you should experiment and make allowances for your oven, your pans, your taste. I suggest you read the entire thing first before thinking about starting.

PRE-FIRST: Preheat oven to 350. Or, if your oven runs hot like mine, 325. Cakes are picky and ovens are all different. It has taken me a while to get used to the oven in this apartment — like it’s taken me time and experimenting to get used to the oven each time I move to a new place. Meaning, don’t try to Continue reading

Simple Sunday Cookie Comfort

I spent a mostly quiet day. The sister was off for five hours or so with the mom doing an 80th surprise birthday at an Elks’ Lodge for a member of a branch of the family I long ago pulled away from — they live in a very different reality than I do, a group most of whom would vote for someone I consider a fascist, if they bother to vote at all.

I read. And I cooked. Because Sunday is free day on the diet and, also, has always been for me a day of comfort-food meals.

Last night I slow-cooked in a Dutch-oven in the oven at 200 degrees a pork shoulder with bone broth, garlic, and onions, until the meat fell from the bones. I let it cool somewhat and then refrigerated overnight. This morning I pulled the meat apart, drained the fat, removed the bones, and put the Dutch-oven on top of the stove at simmer, added a few cups of water, celery, carrots, a bay leaf, and started its day long journey to becoming Pork Shoulder Pot Pie.

While dinner simmered all day I finished Ruth Rendell’s The St. Zita Society and started Nell Zink’s Nicotine (I will book-blog about these in another post), and, too, caught up with some trash television I had on dvr.

nov-6-16-sno-cap-cookies-prep

Sheeting the cookies, full of hope, and LOOK! My new holiday hot pads.

nov-6-16-sno-cap-cookies

The finished delicious product, cooling.

Then, I made some cookies. I had discovered at the grocery store that Nestle is now making miniature Sno-Caps — like chocolate chips, and there was a recipe on the bag. I adapted it. Which I always do. I didn’t think it sounded chocolate-y enough, so I doubled the vanilla amount and melted some Hershey Kisses and Hershey Dark Chocolate miniatures to add to the dough along with a quarter cup of almond flour to make up for the extra moisture. Let me just say, these are keepers! A cross between a cookie and a brownie and freaking delicious.

nov-6-16-pork-shoulder-pot-pie

The Pork Shoulder Pot-Pie, almost ready to be served — so tasty, so comforting, so delicious on a diet-free-day.

While I was baking/cooling the last few batches of cookies, I added Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Noodles to my day-long pork-shoulder-pot-pie project. The noodles only need about 20 minutes to soak up the juices and become good and tender. I had the JUST PERFECT amount of broth (a miracle, that) so that by the time the noodles were done, there was very little liquid left, and what starts as soup the first day (or, last night late in my case — I had an extra hour, after all) becomes casserole-like at completion.

Sister loved the pot-pie and the cookies. I was happy to bring her some joy — which is why I cook; it gives me such warmth to nourish others this way.

It is my pleasure to give people cookies. To give people comfort.

The faraway-sometimes-impossible-never-going-to-happen-we-can’t-be-a-thing-lover of whom I spoke a few entries ago, who texted me one night for comfort and advice while I was furiously rearranging my furniture in my ongoing effort to find some peace, some balance, well, turns out he was in town this weekend. Turns out he was terribly busy and there wasn’t time or opportunity for us to get together. Turns out he thought that would be a great thing to message me today as he was on his way out of town again, along with the “I really, really miss touching you” and “Thank you for always being there for me.”

Which seems a funny thing to say when you are on your way out of town without having seen me. Or, been here.

I could have given him some cookies to take along.

Holy fuckballs I am tired.

Later kids.

 

 

 

 

Charlie Updates

october-2016

The Latest Selfie. Keeping track of myself in case I am actually fading away.

Update: five minutes after initial posting. Ugh. My memory — Please watch the video at the end of the post.

I’m busy exploring my deciduous essence; who and what I am has always been about desquamation, and never has the tearing away of the scales and the shedding of skins been more the primary characteristics of my being than in the last five years or so. One does worry, sometimes, that the affirmative reduction process has or is in danger of eliding into a pathological diminishment of self, until I’ve subtracted myself into non-being — but if spiritual cleansing works like dieting, not much chance of that, as the weight loss is going slower with the passing of time. Damn. I used to be able to drop twenty pounds with little effort. No more. Funny, keeping records on a phone app, watching my dieting/exercise progress, and wishing there was a like-spiritual app. Instead, I take selfies. Okay then, that, and updates on where I am (and am not) going.

TWITTER

It’s now been more than a week since I have opened Twitter. I wish I could parse for you the emotional or psychological or spiritual impetus for the retreat, but, I can’t, not really, except to say the Latin root of the word impetus means to attack/attack, and while the people I follow on Twitter are everything lovely, there was a process going on inside me the result of which was I felt discontent, covetousness, an isolate in another world where I didn’t really belong. These are my issues, they were caused by Continue reading

FOOD: Sunday; Showing Up for Swiss Steak

swiss-steak-93

The finished Day-Long Swiss-Steak, lightly sauced. There is a large bowl of more sauce to be ladled like gravy over the meat and mashed potatoes. For some reason I seem not to have taken a pic of that!

It’s my sixth day of cold-turkey Twitter hiatus. I haven’t logged in. I have no idea what’s going on in that world I’ve been living in. I’m not sure what this means or why I felt I had to exit there, which is the reason I can’t go back. I miss the people, my Twitterati, my connection, but I am wondering if maybe I am just not meant to be connected to the world, to anyone, really. There is so much of me no one knows, and, well, I want to be held in ways no one really can — I think I am re-parenting me in a way. Not that my parenting was flawed in the first place, far from it. And so, here, a story about my Mom, and a recipe. Love and Light whoever you are out there. Sorry if you came here looking for naked Dylan O’Brien, those days seem to be long gone.

I got to host Momma for Sunday dinner. Unexpectedly.

This is worlds more complicated than it sounds since seeing Momma requires driving to the Home for the Aged (that’s what they call it, have called it, since the 1800s) and getting her and her walker from her third floor residence, down the historic front steps, into the car, and then from the car and into my apartment which requires either a long sidewalk trek and a flight up to the front door of my building and down a flight into my apartment, or, an alternate shorter roll across the lawn where tree roots and damp patches lurk. Too, of late, Momma has begun to forget she’s being picked up and so not been waiting at the front door, signed out, I.D. necklaced and ready, or, has fallen asleep in her chair, book on her lap. Because of this, she’s instructed me to call before I come. So, on Sunday, once I realized I should bring her over for dinner, I spoke to her on the phone to say I would be done at the gym between 3:30-4:00 and would call her to let her know.

Well, I called. No answer.

I try not to panic anymore. She is 88. Too, my sister had Continue reading

The Heart of (cr)Eating

I have spent my life modeling my behavior after brilliant, soulful women of a certain age, and so, in the manner of my current idol of perfection, Her Grace (she knows who she is, and if you’re reading this, you probably do as well), who displays her impeccable breeding by reserving comment about whatever current  fetid cesspool of events is polluting Twitter and focusing on the eternal, I have been shutting up about (or, hiding from) the news and peppering (so to speak) my Twitter-feed with photos of the food I’ve been making. Cooking comforts me, particularly when I am creating dishes for others, and like reading and writing, it nourishes my heart and soul. My Twitter-food photos and descriptions have prompted requests to share my recipes and so I have decided to start food-blogging in addition to book-blogging and navel-gazing-too-much-information-in-need-of-therapy-please-love-me blogging. I warn you, I’m no more qualified to chef than I am to write, and my methods are best described as improvisational, the resulting concoctions sometimes delicious and sometimes … well, they are always an effort of love and that’s what counts. So, here we are, going, on this new food-blogging adventure. And I wouldn’t be me, whatever name you want to call me, if I didn’t go on at great length about how I got to be here, going. Much love, dear ones.

october-9-2016-household-searchlight

Sissie’s Cookbook & Recipe File

THE BEGINNINGS OF GASTRONOMICAL ME

My aunt, Sissie, lived in the Libertytown house where she’d been born in 1918 for more than sixty years until the flock of family to whom she’d devoted her decades was by death and marriage and failure and hubris culled to a herd unable (or, unwilling) to physically and financially maintain what Sissie and I, in our BritLit loving affectation called “The Manse”.

I spent Sundays and summers at The Manse through my childhood, and when my fizzled flounderings at becoming a productive, contributing member of society in my teens and twenties failed, Sissie would take me in. We were a happy melange of Grey Gardens, bargain basement Brideshead, and the Babe Paley/TrumanCapote-dowager/walker dynamic.

What Sissie did and loved and was, I wanted to do and love and be to please her, and so in addition to modeling her quiet Catholic piety, goodness, and kindness, I became a devotee of theatre — especially musicals, especially those starring Miss Mary Martin — and a voracious reader of books, and a fanatic for the culture of New York City, or, at least, the Manhattan as depicted in MGM musicals and written about by members of the Algonquin Round Table and Helene Hanff, and, too, when I was ten or eleven, on the family Sundays which I spent with Sissie in Libertytown, I started “helping” her to cook.

october-9-2016-mfk-fisher

Sissie’s copy of The Art of Eating, another of the things I saved from Libertytown & Sissie

Despite Continue reading