Category Archives: Food

There’s Always Next Year

Like the Red Sox fans before the 2004 World Series win, every spring, my hope and optimism are reborn. This is the year I will have tomatoes before Labor Day and have more tomatoes than I can eat by myself. This is the year I will get to gaze at my gorgeous tomato plants with satisfaction and pride. This is the year I will finally beat those nasty bugs and critters laying in wait.

And as usual, shortly before Memorial Day I received my tomato plants, grown lovingly from seed, from my friends Becky and Susan. I was so proud:

tomato-before

My excitement was short-lived. Every single year, about three to four weeks in, something weird happens, and I have to send an emergency panic photo to Becky and Susan, with a plea for a diagnosis. This year it was these nasty little fellows: tomoato-aphids

In the past, I’ve had weirdly crinkled leaves, other types of bugs, something I dubbed butt rot. Let’s just say I keep Becky and Susan busy. This year it was aphids, which seemed easily solved with soapy spray. I followed the directions and in a few days the nasty things were gone. Yay! I was on track. And anyway, I usually am able to get a couple of handfuls of small tomatoes before havoc strikes.

A few weeks after that, I noticed the leaves at the bottom of one of the plants were getting yellow, but I didn’t pay much attention. In past years, when I was actually able to get a few handfuls of tomatoes before they were overcome with bugs, a virus, or my sheer inability to care properly for them, some leaves turn yellow. Some. It soon became clear, however, this plant was going belly up from bottom to top. I looked at the doomed yellow flowers and tried to stay hopeful. I still have another plant, after all.

Yeah, right. The other thing that happens every single year is that the plants all go together. There never seems to be a hardy survivor. And sure enough, when plant number 1 was about half-way dead, plant number 2 started its inevitable march to the big garden in the sky. I searched in vain for bugs, evidence of gnawing animals, stunted leaf growth. Nothing was wrong with them except, perhaps they realized that being in my care was going to mean their demise anyway, so I think they made a pact and took control of the situation.

They begrudgingly gave me five small tomatoes, threw themselves in each other’s arms and became this:

tomato-after

On the upside the basil is growing like crazy and seems impervious to me, bugs and critters. So at least I can make pesto.

So, dear delicate tomatoes, I bid you adieu. No judging, but I wish you could have been more like your sibling, Basil. Just you wait til next year.

 

Happy Dead Jesus, or Easter for Catholics

I might finally be turning the corner on my dread of Easter. I’ve written before about my religious disposition and how that whole Catholic thing just didn’t seem to take in me or in my family. In fact, one might say I ran screaming from being Catholic, and there are many reasons why, but the big one was Easter. Or should I say, the three bloody, gory days leading up to Easter. Despite my potty mouth and my penchant for channeling my gin-soaked, cigarette smoking alter ego Blanche, I’m a sensitive person. Well, at least in a squeamish sort of way. They call it the “Passion of Christ,” but I like to think of passion as either doing something you absolute love that feeds your mind, body, and soul, or, alternately, going at it with someone hot and sexy who thinks you’re hot and sexy. Call me crazy, but I’ve never associated passion with getting the snot beaten out of you and getting nailed to wood.

But growing up that’s what Easter was for me EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Rehashing the gory details of a man’s crucifixion for three days straight — a guy who by most accounts was just trying to be a decent person. Then, on Easter Sunday, the fact that Jesus is risen and the appearance of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans are supposed to erase all that. But it never did for me because my Catholic guilt had been honed to perfection. It was made perfectly clear to me that I caused his death. Jesus was getting beat up for me, specifically; the text is very clear on this part. Believe me, I was always looking for some loophole to pin it on the lame people of the time. No such luck. So you can perhaps forgive me if I wasn’t quite getting the joy of Jesus going to heaven thing.

Intellectually, I get that for some people Easter Sunday is just that. I only kind of understand it from years of asking enthusiastic Catholics what they get out of their religion because I was 1) stumped and 2) genuinely curious. The most common answer is they like the ritual, pomp, and pageantry. I thought that’s what the British monarchy is for, but apparently that’s just me.

The only thing that saved me from the Easter horror was the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, I get that Andrew Lloyd Weber ain’t no Stephen Sondheim, but I didn’t need Broadway perfection, just a transmutation. The music made me finally realize this is a rich human story set to some ass-kicking guitar riffs. I’ll never have the faith required to forget three days of pain to revel in the euphoria of the Easter morning, but I can sing, “Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!” like a Broadway bad-ass.

But I think I might finally be getting past all this — you all may only have to endure another year or two of an “Easter is gory” blog. Did I mention I tend to have a hard time letting things go?

I offered to bring dessert to my sister’s house for Easter — my sister’s extensive wine collection helps me keep everything in perspective and keeps my gory observations to myself. On Saturday I went to the Italian bakery in my neighborhood, and it was a beehive of people buying cakes, pastries, and cookies decorated with bunnies and chocolate eggs. There were eight people behind the counter, and the door to the back room swung open to reveal an additional small army of bakers and decorators. People were smiling. People were happy. One older couple laughed about spending $90 on pastries. We both knew they’d be bringing it to some big family gathering and enjoying each other’s company. I wished them a happy Easter as I lugged my own 7-pound box of fruit tarts and chocolate cake heaven back to my car. I wasn’t thinking about dead Jesus, I was thinking about blazing guitar riffs, heavenly bakery goodies, the cold spring day filled with the promise of warmth, and being with people you love. Happy Easter.

Photo credit: Heavy.com 20 creepiest Easter bunnies

How to Be a Resolution Rock Star

I find resolutions fascinating, mostly because people have such strong reactions for or against them. Folks tend to fall into two camps:

  1. I must lose 20 pounds, work out more, finally get through War and Peace.
  2. Resolutions are stupid, self-destructive, and are the end of civilization as we know it.

Of course there are entire industries to support both options. There are experts to tell you in great detail how to lose 20 pounds, work out more, and get through War and Peace. I’ll bet you could rattle off some of the tips without so much as a Google search. “Set realistic goals, have an exercise buddy, stalk your high school English teacher on Facebook and see if he or she will accept a report on War and Peace from you as a way to be accountable.” Blah, blah, blah. Who among us can honestly say we haven’t been sucked into one of those lists of top 10 ways to succeed at your resolutions? Liars.

The anti-resolution people are just as adamant and have their own lists of why people fail. These experts maintain that most people making resolutions are doomed and their failure just reinforces the bad feelings that led them to the resolutions in the first place. Then the bad feeling forces the hapless resolvers to do better the next year, with the same results. It’s a vicious cycle that the anti-resolution people seem to kind of enjoy writing lists about.

The truth is that probably most people start off in the first camp and get so pissed off they become members of the second camp. But let’s get real. Both sides have their points, and there’s every reason to believe you are good enough and smart enough (and gosh darn it people probably like you) to continue on with your life without having to lose 20 pounds, work out more, or read War and Peace. That is unless you were that person in front of me who was still stopped, even though the traffic light had turned green, because you were texting, watching a kitten video, or checking your Twitter feed. Then you really are as bad as your resolutions are going to make you feel, and I hope you fail miserably every year.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea to review once a year where you are in your life and what you have become, especially if you have become a phone zombie. If you feel like you could make a few changes, take heart and listen up. The problem is people set their sights too high. Forget about all that “make specific, manageable goals” poppycock. The key my friends is be less specific and keep the bar low. For example, if you want to lose weight, downgrade it to eating better. The beauty of this is that it can mean anything you want. Just inhaled a Snickers bar? No problem, eat an apple chaser. Better eating. Done.

Family driving you crazy? No worries. Your resolution could be to have more patience with them. So next time Uncle Bob is hocking a loogie at the dinner table, just go to your happy place. You get credit for not launching yourself at Uncle Bob and pummeling the loogie out of him. See? More patience. Done. God, how I love that disgusting phrase, hock a loogie. My resolution is to work it into my daily life at least once. Oh, look! I just did. Done. And I also resolve to use the fun word “poppycock” in a sentence. Yes! Two for two!

You are now a resolution rock star. You’re welcome. Happy New Year!

Post Thanks and the Dark Side of Carrots

Thanksgiving was busy and wonderful and there were many moments with friends and family I am grateful for. In a few instances I was laughing my ass off, but thanks to my middle-aged brain I can’t really remember what I was laughing about–let’s just say you had to be there.

So you can blame gratitude for the fact that this week I couldn’t get it together to write a regular post, or if I did it would have been sappy and positive, and who the hell needs that? Instead, I was recovering from all the post Thankgiving festivities and preparing my vegetable snacks for the week because I’m older and this is what life has come to. Snacking on vegetables. Go ahead and laugh young ones, and call me in 20-30 years. I hope you’ll be snacking on something more futuristic, yet similarly ridiculous.

So there I was emptying the bag of “baby carrots” when I discovered the ugly dark underbelly of this misnamed product.

They aren’t babies.

Look at that long witch/snowman nose shaped carrot lurking among the “babies” like the old hag in a fairy tale looking for tender flesh in exchange for a prince’s greedy wish.

I’m crushed, crushed I tell you! Wish me luck getting it away from the others. It had a mean look in its pointy end. And please join me in my petition to name these carrots more accurately. Like carrot stumps or witch carrot sacrifices. You know,  something truthful that rolls off the tongue. I’m sure we can all be grateful for that.

Top 5 Things that Make Me Crazier than I Need to Be

Besides my natural inclination for being crazy, I also have to wrangle with the hormonally-induced crazy thoughts of perimenopause. Like the time I had a random moment of intense hatred for a stranger because of the coat she was wearing. It was an odd geometric pattern, and it pissed me off. I just laughed it off with my friends, but honestly, what does that even mean?!? All I can say is you people are just lucky I’m a pacifist and that I never took karate.

So I really don’t need any encouragement to be crazier than I currently am.  And I do so try to mind my own business, but while I’m doing that, these things happen. Stupid annoying things that shouldn’t because my rules make sense. If everyone would just follow them, we’d all be better off. Well, I would be better off, and that’s all that matters, right? I’m the one having anger issues over patterned coats. Here are my current top 5 things that make me crazier than I need to be:

  1. Online recipe fiddlers. See, foodies, some of us actually need recipes. Our creativity has other outlets, so when we go to Epicurious.com we’re actually there to find and follow a recipe. When we read the comments and ratings, what we’re looking for is a confirmation that the recipe works and is tasty. That’s it. We don’t need this:

“This recipe is great! I substituted Marash chili (from Turkey) for the pepper and added carrots, onions, white wine, thyme, and simmered 30 to 35 minutes to meld the flavors. Then I added fresh Parmesan cheese before serving.”

OK, that’s great smarty-pants foodie, but that’s not the ‘effen “Fast White Bean Stew” recipe. If I had wanted white bean stew with fancy pants spices and lots of extra ingredients, I would have looked for that recipe. Oh, and thank you for telling me where your fancy pants spice comes from. Like I care. Your review is absolutely useless to me because I’m not getting Turkish spices or adding cheese or simmering an additional 30 to 35 minutes because that’s not fast, which, BTW, is in the title.

2. Cloves. Just, no. They smell disgusting. They are disgusting. You might as well substitute that gross incense the Catholics use. Why, why, why, must those weird little brown flower buds and stems desecrate a ham? You want to stick decorative things in a ham? How about toothpicks with those frilly ends? I still haven’t recovered from my childhood run-in with a salad. Mind you, the salad was meant to encourage kids to eat it. Half a pear for the body on the bed of lettuce and a cottage cheese tail. Cute, right?

But then guess what the eyes and mouth were? Yummy raisins? No. Peanuts? No. Disgusting cloves. Even when you pull them out, the flavor remains and infects the canned pear goodness.

God, I hate cloves.

3. People who walk in the road when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk to use. At first I thought this was a peculiarity of my town. This generally doesn’t happen in Boston proper. If it did, between the cars and bikers, you could clog all the ERs in Boston hospitals with pedestrian accidents. But I’ve seen it in other surrounding towns. What the hell is that about? Are these the same people who don’t wear seat belts because the “man” told them to? Do they think sidewalks are for chumps?

Attention, Roadwalkers. Do you not understand that we Masshole drivers have the worst driving reputation? We will hit you and it’s a 50-50 chance it’s intentional. OK 80% chance. Use. The. Damn. Sidewalk. Freaks.

4. Commercial du jour. That commercial for a big box electronics store that suggests when your kid’s science fair project, such as an anemic exploding volcano, isn’t quite exciting enough, go buy a big screen TV. Then it shows the family watching some other, more exciting exploding volcano on the new TV because that makes sense…um…how exactly? You still don’t seem to get out of doing the stupid science fair project, which should be the main goal. Unless they mean for you to get out of doing it by bribing the teacher by giving him/her the TV? I’m the first to admit I hate the school science fair projects–all that angst and frustration and misery. I think a better commercial would be for an iRobot: Science Fair Edition that could make the damn project for you. That is a much better electronic solution I would pay top dollar for.

5. Fellow drivers. You didn’t think I was going to get to number 5 without doing something driving related, did you? There are so many road violations around here, it’s really hard to pick one, and it can depend on the day. But this week, I’ll say that the one that annoys me the most is when I get beeped at for obeying the traffic rules, such as not running down those people who don’t use the sidewalk, but they will use the cross walk in front of my car even though I have a green turn arrow. Clever bastards. I should’ve hit them by “accident” when I had the chance driving alongside of them. Now if I hit them, I’m clearly “in the wrong” because the cowards are hiding behind the cross walk right-of-way rule.

But do my fellow drivers behind me feel my pain? No, they lay on the horn because I’m not turning on the green arrow. I’m fairly sure that even if I did go ahead and run the people over, the drivers would still beep at me because my small Toyota Corolla couldn’t properly flatten them, and they would have to drive over the bumps.

So there you have it. I’m actually pretty proud of myself for getting the list down to 5. I must really be growing and maturing. Just don’t wear a weird geometric coat near me or walk in the road while I’m driving. Freaks.

Out to Lunch

Of the millions of opportunities we mothers have to hone our guilt, I would put money on this one as a top 10 candidate: “what your kid brings to school for lunch.” That is, unless you are one of those lucky and annoying (to the rest of us) moms who has a kid who continued to eat the wheat bread and fresh fruit and vegetables we all plied our babies and toddlers with. Know how lucky you are, and consider it may not be a result of your parenting skills—you won the kid lunch lottery with his or her unchanging taste buds. Many of us are faced with kids who would rather not eat green things, or as my teen recently put it, anything grown in dirt. I did all the right things when he was younger—stayed away from junk food, fast food, bright blue drinks, and non-food orange things in a bag, but it didn’t take. When your kid can describe in great detail why the flavor/texture/color is unpleasant, you learn to pick your battles. Plus, I don’t have the fortitude to be a send-your-kid-to-bed-without-supper kind of parent. I’m more a please-dear-god-can’t-we-all-just-go-to-bed-fed kind.

And I thought I had made peace with the fact that I survived the school policing of my kid’s lunch in grammar and middle schools and now send him to high school with crap for lunch. For a number of years I counted Lunchables and Cheez-Its as a healthier option, but once my teen went to high school all bets were off. He dismissed the Lunchables as too childish, and I couldn’t talk him into buying lunch, which would have relieved me of the responsibility and knowledge altogether. So he brings junk food for lunch—Doritos, chips, popcorn, pretzels. And because he doesn’t actually eat it every day (“I didn’t have time”), and he’s never sick and keeps growing, I tell myself he’s a teen and that’s what the teen years are for—flouting the rules of health with few consequences. He has the rest of his life to feel guilty about not going to the gym enough, wear a Fitbit, and avert his eyes from the calorie count while ordering a Big Mac. His health classes have already done a great job starting him on the guilt train.

So there I was at the Stop&Shop, scanning the big bag o’ lunch-sized junk food, Coke, Mountain Dew, and cookies. It was like Oscar the Grouch was stocking up for a hurricane. I pulled my receipt from the checkout and the receipt from the order before me was still in the machine. I gave it a curious, cursory glance, and its contents stopped me cold:

  • Darypur 1% mlk (Pur? Mountain Dew is pure too, you know, like from a clean, crisp mountain)
  • Bag plum 2 lb (A whole bag? What kind of healthy freak are you?)
  • Fresh bananas (“Fresh”? Do you really need to rub that in my face? And do you also sell “stale” bananas?)
  • Red grapes (They have a lot of sugar you know!)

Short and sweet and devastatingly healthy. And to add insult to injury the receipt boasted in 30 pt font size that this person had $703.22 in CARD SAVINGS in 2015. I had scanned my savings card, but it hadn’t registered. I’m not sure how much I’ve saved this year, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have even half that. And who knew you could save that much buying rabbit food? Then to finish me off, the gas rewards points were 475, meaning, health food nut was going to get 40 cents per gallon off his or her next gas purchase. I’m excited if I can get to 20 cents.

I stood there clutching my highly processed imitation food and wondered how a small slip of paper could make me feel like such a bad mother, an inadequate person who doesn’t know how to work the store savings program, and a rube who pays nearly full-price at the pump.

But then I remembered a story. It floated me past the internet kid lunch wars and the Siren song posts like “10 sure ways to get your kid to eat more vegetables” (it’s all bunk—they don’t tell you it requires a kid who actually eats in the first place.) In the first difficult years of my young son’s taste bud down turn, I was beside myself with guilt and worry, convinced I was going to kill him with bad nutrition  or get thrown into DSS’s secret bad lunch slammer. My coworker at the time saved me when she told me the story of her then grown son and how as a kid he ate nothing but PB&J on white bread for five years straight. Did it stunt his growth? Make him a low performer in school? Put him on a path of crime and ne’er do wellness? Nope. He went on to Cal Tech, California’s MIT, and they both lived to tell the tale.

So I took a deep breath, crumpled up the fruit-laden receipt, and made a perfect shot into the trash can. Mom: 3; Guilt: 0. Crap in a school lunch bag? Priceless.

Gardening: That’s a Wrap Folks

Every spring my gardening friends give me two or three tomato plants that they raise from seed for my little patio container garden. I usually supplement it with a few sunflowers, a basil plant and a bean or a pepper plant. The upside to this mini garden is that I do get some edible things out of it, and theoretically such a petit garden should be fairly easy to take care of. You’d think. But more often than not some blight or bug or just plain bad watering on my part often gets to my plants shortly after I’ve harvested the first few fruits of my labor. I can’t even call myself a hobbyist gardener. I’m more a city person who likes to sit outside in the summer and look at a few green plants. Of course that means when they go to that big garden in the sky before their time, I’m back in the grocery store staring at those tasteless pathetic excuses for a tomato and cursing.

I will take responsibility for the unsteady watering last year, which resulted in what I dubbed as butt rot. Note exhibit A:

photo (13)

I am not taking the hit for the blight and bugs, though–that’s nature’s doing. And the last several years, I’ve watched in horror as all three or four plants have gone from small green promises to brown, spotted, bug-infested heartbreakers.

However, my optimism is more difficult to kill than tomato plants, so this spring I decided to start over with all new pots and soil, just in case the blight and bugs imprints were still on the old pots. And as usual, everything started out swimmingly. The two tomato plants and the sunflower looked happy and the basil plant converted into a fragrant bush in short order. But then I went on vacation for three days and had no one to water them. When I got back, the one tomato plant was turning brown. But it was hopelessly entangled in the other plant, a purple cherry tomato, which had flowers all over it. The sunflowers and basil were gasping, so I kept watering them all and soldiered on bravely.

It turned out to be a great summer for tomatoes—sunny and hot. I waited ALL summer for the green tomatoes on the second, thriving plant to ripen. I’m not sure why, but every year while real gardeners are pressing their gratuitously annoying tomato bounty on everyone in the middle of July, I’m getting one tomato a week until the end of August. Then when the weather turns cooler, all the tomatoes start turning red, but the plant knows summer is done and just throws up its leaves and keels over, and I’m looking up fried green tomato recipes on the internet.

The same thing happened this year— I was staring at green tomatoes for six weeks willing them to ripen. Then I realized with dismay that my second, longer vacation at the beginning of September was going to collide with the long-awaited ripening. I had only gotten about five tomatoes until that point. All the rest of the 30 were crying out in the their faint purple skins and begging me not to leave them. I acknowledged my shortcomings as a gardener, and admit that I may very well be a urban plant murderess. I picked a few more half-purple ones that could finish ripening in the house and went on vacation, hoping the weather app showing five days of blazing sun was wrong.

When I got back, the patio “garden” was a sorry, browning drooping mass. There were maybe eight more tomatoes that had ripened during the plant’s demise, which I picked. But it looked like that would be the end of it. Still, in my crazy optimism I thought it couldn’t hurt to try to water it again—the branches weren’t that brown and dry. So I watered and watered until, just like a cheesy children’s story, within a few days most of the plant rallied and the cherry tomatoes were back on track (see Exhibit B at the top of the post). So far I’ve gotten about 15 tomatoes and there are probably 20 more on the way. The next week in Boston will be averaging 80 degrees, so maybe I’m counting my tomatoes before they turn purple, but I think I’ll have enough for a few salads. Heck, I might even have to give some away.

And then I’ll sit on my patio with a sweatshirt and watch the naturally dying tomato plant and dream of next spring. I think I might be getting the hang of this.