Thursday, October 29, 2009

Backbone Cupcakes

I was leafing through a giant pile of pictures the other day, cursing myself for not being the scrapbooking type. Hell, I'm not even the baby book type, a fact I was cruelly reminded of when Miss M. turned 4. I opened M's baby book to insert Miss D's birthday card for her, and realized I hadn't filled in a single page for year 3. I suck.

After the Baby Book Shaming, I decided to tackle that pile of photos. Which just reminded me how hard I suck.

But I found the above picture and it made me smile. Even though it's blurry and shitty. This pic was taken a year or so ago, far before the blogging days, so there really wasn't a reason to take a picture of a cupcake...

Except that there was.

It's no secret that I was a fearful, wimpy kid who was bullied relentlessly. It was horrendous, living in that kind of fear, but in a way, I asked for it. I allowed myself to be treated like the World's Own Whipping Boy. I came home every day after school, ate my snack, did my homework, and went to bed without saying a word to my parents about the abuse. Bullies love a victim who won't spill.

Some bullies are worse than others. In my case, it was a stout, ruddy-faced girl named Sandra, who flushed dozens of my mittens down the boys' restroom toilet and even attempted a ski jacket once. She whispered into the ear of every girl in our class, warning them that if they spoke to me, if they sat near me at the lunch table, they were toast. She told the boy I adored that I was a dyke, a word I'd never heard of before.

There are special places in Hades for the Sandra's of the world. There have to be, right?

Last year, Miss D. got a big old dose of Mean Girl from an aggressive cretin named Alize. Lucky for me, Miss D. is the worst at hiding her feelings. The first day Alize messed with her, she arrived home with swollen eyes and a face as open as a bloody wound. And I knew.

Bless Miss D. and her open-book soul; she spilled the goods, smearing my shirt with tears and snot, shattered that someone could be so mean.

So I rubbed her back and wiped her face and told her about Sandra. And Rebecca. And Nicole. And Shannon. And an entire pack of girls in junior high. I managed to attract them in droves, because like all feral animals, they perked up at the scent of blood.

And I told Miss D. the secret that all bullies seem to know: a girl who won't fight for herself is dead meat.

It's a nasty little lesson, particularly when it has to come in the freaking 1st grade...those wenches start early nowadays.

There are plenty of people who will disagree with me, but I will never, not ever, be the parent who tells her child to just ignore a bully. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a free ticket for someone to ride your ass relentlessly.

A few days later, Miss D. came home from school, uncharacteristically silent. I mean, this is a kid who hits the door with a barbaric YAWP! every day. Something was afoot.

It came out at bedtime: my skinny Miss D., who I had to order special pants for in the 1st grade, had an incident in gym class. Quite plainly, her pants fell down. Quickly, she pulled them up, but someone saw. Any guess who that someone was?

And that someone laughed. And threatened to tell the whole class.

I pulled her close, smelled the strawberry shampoo in her hair, felt thick in the throat.

And then I said, "What did you do?"
"I sorta wanted to die, Mom. I was so embarrassed. She saw my underwear and everything."
"I'm so sorry, baby. That's my fault. Remind me in the morning to pin your pants tighter, okay?"
"But when she laughed? Honey? What happened?"
"I told her she was mean."
"You did? Really? What did she say?"
"Nothing. She shut her fat mouth."
"I think it's good you said something to make her shut that mouth...I'm glad you decided to do that."
"'Kay. But Mama?"
"Don't forget about the pants, okay?"
"Promise, baby. Consider it done."

The next day, while Miss D. was staring down the fire-breathing dragon that was Alize, I made cupcakes. Because growing a backbone is mighty hard work. A girl needs to keep her strength up.

Thank God this girl is learning faster than her Mama.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

White Trash Motherlode: Orange Julius

I absolutely adore this picture of Miss D.

Do you know why? Because, to my despair, most people don't think Miss D. looks anything like me. In fact, when she was a baby, I got the following remarks from anonymous folks in public places:

"Well, shoot, your DNA sure didn't translate, did it?"
"Oh Wow! You adopted a Shanghai baby, too?"
"What an adorable little girl! What country did you get her from?"

I mean, asshole remarks aside, I have a tiny streak of vanity that wants SOME part of my child to look like me. I can't help it. I just feel that way. And it hurt my feelings when people looked at Miss D., looked at me, looked back at Miss D. and then shook their heads, perplexed.

Unbeknownst to them, however, Miss D. does resemble me. Need proof?

I know, right? Lucky Miss D. got her Mama's stilt-like legs. And although I am saddened by the fact that she, like her Mama, will probably have to endure the nickname "Flamingo Legs," I am also pleased to see some part of me represented in this little human I grew for 9 months.

My legs aren't quite so scrawny any more, but when I was a kid, it was a problem.

My mother is still indignant, to this day, about a phone call she received on the first day of school in a brand new city:

Mama: "Hello?"
Lady: "Ummm, yes, is this the mother of (pause and slight riffling of paper)...Dana? In Mrs. ______________'s class?"
Mama: "Yes...?"
Lady: "Well,ummmmm, I'm calling, Ma'am, because Dana is sitting here in the front office? She's scheduled to be in gym class but the gym teacher?"
Mama: "Yes...?"
Lady: "Well, Ma'am, the gym teacher just wasn't real sure if your child could participate in regular gym activities? You know? With the frail legs and all?"
Mama: Long pause. "Are you telling me that the gym teacher thinks my daughter is deformed?"
Lady: realizing the shitstorm she just walked into... "Well, ahhhhh, I can't say anything about whether she thought that, mind you...but has your daughter been ill recently? Is that it?"
Mama: using that icy Southern tone... "I will have you know that there is nothing wrong with that child! She is just very small boned... And she's very active and just doesn't hold onto any weight, but I can assure you--she is certainly NOT deformed or sick. Lace up the gym shoes and get her back in there NOW."
Lady: "Er, ok, Ma'am, I'll pass that on. Thankyoubye."

Boy, Mama was steamed. And after that little incident, Mama started making me an Orange Julius every day after school, because obviously, someone needed a little meat on her bones.

Orange Julius
makes 2

1/4 cup orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon powdered milk*
2 tablespoons honey or powdered sugar**
1 teaspoon vanilla
6-8 ice cubes, depending on the size

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whirr until frothy.

* I don't really think you need this; Mama just threw it in to try to fatten me up. I bet some vanilla protein powder (something we didn't have back then) would probably ramp up the nutritional value.

**This version is not nearly as sweet as the version you can get at the mall...just a warning! So if you need the sweet--add another tablespoon or two of honey/sugar.

Serve to any child who is so moth-eaten scrawny that people assume illness or deformity.

P.S.: This Orange Julius is delicious, but I do not guarantee results. Children who have legs like Whooping Cranes often remain so for the rest of their natural lives.

P.S.S.: Miss D., little minx, I apologize. There's no denying where those gams came from.

Risotto Therapy

My sweet neighbor Jen had the Wisdom Tooth Extraction from Hell a few days ago. Jen is one tough cookie, so when the dentist offered to prescribe Vicodin to kill the pain, she said, "Oh, I'm sure Advil will be enough."

Foolish, Foolish, Naive Jen. I am unsure why she is friends with me, because if ANY person offered to prescribe me Vicodin, for any reason, I'd be running out the door with my pills immediately. Me loves da Vicodin!

Two days later, I called her (and yes, I took two days to call her after her ordeal...again, why is she friends with me?) to see how she was faring. Poor Jen was crying. Literally.

She'd been in unbearable pain and unable to eat anything but soup for two days. After assuring her that VICODIN IS YOUR FRIEND, I got to work whipping up something other than soup for her to gum down. Soup for two days straight is just depressing. I'd cry too, if I had to eat just soup for two days.

I decided that someone that miserable deserves risotto. Problem is, I'd never made it before. Risotto is higher maintenance than Anna Wintour; you have to stir it constantly and decide when is the exact time to add ladles of hot broth and babysit the damn thing for half an hour. I don't do high maintenance.

But Jen cried. This was serious business. She deserved risotto.

I pored over a few cookbooks but I didn't find the perfect recipe. Because I needed to apply Risotto Therapy immediately and so a trip to the grocery store wasn't in the cards.

I did, shockingly, have Arborio rice in my pantry, because I've been *meaning* to try my hand at risotto for a while now. And luckily, I had a few boxes of chicken broth hanging around (fallout from Bean Week).

A quick rummage through the refrigerator yeilded a shallot, red and orange bell pepper, a few mushrooms, 2 cups of spinach, parmesan cheese and 4 slices of Applewood Smoked bacon.

And of course, we ALWAYS have wine in this house.

Viola! Risotto Therapy to the rescue.

Emergency Risotto
serves 4-6

4 slices Applewood Smoked bacon, chopped
1 shallot, diced
1/2 cup each red and orange bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
1 cup dry white wine
7-8 (about) cups of chicken stock, heated to boil and then kept on simmer (you may have some left over)
1/3 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cups fresh spinach
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Heat chicken stock in a large pot; keep at a simmer. In a large pot, on medium heat, cook the bacon until brown but not crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot, peppers and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more. If necessary, add a glug of olive oil (a tablespoon or so) and add the rice; stir and cook until the rice becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add wine and cook, stirring, until it is almost completely absorbed. Add one cup simmering stock. Keep cooking and stirring until liquid is almost absorbed--at that point, you will start adding stock by ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup) at a time, stirring until it's almost absorbed and then adding stock again. Stir constantly!**

Cook for about 15 minutes or until rice is nearly al dente. Add mushrooms and spinach and cook for about 3-6 minutes more until rice is al dente (you can add more stock after the mushrooms and spinach are added).

Remove from heat, add butter and parmesan, and cover. Let sit a couple of minutes, then stir, adjust for seasoning, and serve in bowls.

**And yeah, the method sounds scary at first, but it wasn't that hard...if I can do it, you can.

I cooked this batch a little South of al dente because poor Jen couldn't chew. Still, it was warm and a welcome change from soup.

And thank goodness the girl came to her senses; the Vicodin Fairy came and she feels much better!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not All People are Assholes: 4

And last but not least, some of my favorite people, girls who make me laugh like crazy!

Jen and Sarah who are not only sisters, but they like each other!
Whispering Writer for some of the craziest marital conversations ever.
Leslie for her self-depracating sense of humor.
Binge for her sparkly personality
Rebecca because I just recently found her blog but feel like I know her already.
The Diva because Canadian Divas are always amusing!

And there you have it!! 4 days of people who are NOT assholes! Amazing!

Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments box below if you know someone AWESOME and want to share with me!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not All People are Assholes: 3

Here are some more awesome bloggers for you guys! Hope you all are enjoying the weekend. We are!

Check these talented bloggers out:

Robin for her loving, poetic spirit.
Jessica for her daily struggles with the cutest blonde on the planet.
Theycallmejane for her dry wit.
Fae for never letting me forget that I am DONE.
Jen because she is right: Mama did Never Say There Would Be Days Like This!

Off to soak up some Sin City sun!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Not All People are Assholes: 2

Today I bring you six great food writers! Now I know not all of my readers are foodies, but we all could stand to learn a few things from these talented folks!


I hope you enjoy these great wizards in the kitchen as much as I do!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not All People Are Assholes: 1

I know, right? I can't believe it, either! Well, except for my readers, who are certainly not assholes, because I have the coolest readers on the planet.

And to prove to you that not all people are assholes, for the next few days, while my darling hubs and I celebrate his belated birthday in Sin City, I am going to share a few links to some of my favorite people.

Now I am assuming that my favorite people who appear on the side of this blog, should you scroll down a little (and you have done that, right?) are already well known to you. If not, naughty you! Those are some awesome people. Go see them. Now.

Ahem. Anyways, I'm gonna link up a few other favorites of mine in the next few days, in the hopes that my awesome readers will discover more awesomeness.

There needs to be more awesomeness in this world.

And if there is awesomeness out there who I haven't discovered, please link to them in the comments section...on Monday!

Today's List of 6 Big-Hearted People:
Tiffany for her courage.
Curious Cat for her tours of the UK
Laura because she can do the amazing crafts that I cannot
Lyndsey for her stunning pictures, which I also cannot provide
J for doing it all with twins
NDM for making me feel okay that sometimes I think my kids make me nuts

Go check these awesome people out today, if you haven't already!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blue Cheese Souffle:Epic Fail

Confession: I've never made a souffle. You know that fear I have of yeast? I also fear egg whites.

Egg whites are temperamental and high maintenance. If there's even the slightest dribble of yolk or the speckiest speck of dirt in the mixing bowl, the egg whites get cranky and say, "Screw you, lady--I'm not performing." Egg whites are like those bitches in high school who were only nice to you maybe once every two weeks.

Barefoot Bloggers
is intent on tormenting me and making me face my fears. While I'm not going to blame them for picking a souffle recipe, I will admit that I was nervous about this one.

You can find the recipe for Ina's blue cheese soufflehere.

Not only was I nervous about a souffle, I was sort of thinking, "ewww, hot blue cheese?" Blue cheese is okay ice cold in my Cobb Salad, but in a hot, eggy mixture? Not sure about that one, Ina. Have you been into the Vicodin again?

And I thought I'd heard something about egg whites and in, sometimes if it's too damp or cold, the egg whites won't perform. Just like my other nemesis, yeast.

It was a miserable, rainy, dark day when I had to pony up for The Blue Cheese Experiment. Grrrrreat.

I did as Ina said and let the eggs come to room temperature...something I have a few issues with, but I was afraid to deviate from the recipe.

Well, not that afraid, obviously, because I was so dubious about the flavor of this dish that I sauteed up 3 slices of bacon and added them to the souffle. I mean, bacon makes everything better. Bacon deserves it's own cool cape and Batmobile, don't you think?

My husband pretended not to hear me cursing a blue streak as I attempted to scald milk, separate eggs, whip the whites on 3 different speeds and then fold them into warm, cheesy goo...all almost at the same time. I felt like I needed 2 more arms to get this dish into the oven.

Have I ever mentioned that I hate folding egg whites? It's too gentle for me. I wanna just muscle them into the batter and be done with it--but nooooo, you have to go low and slow or else your dish deflates.

By the time I had this sucker ready for the oven, I was truly cranky. In fact, I literally threw it into the oven, sloshing batter up the sides of the souffle dish and onto the floor.

And then, genius that I am, I slammed the oven door shut. Which was the one thing my mother told me not to do when making a souffle. Whoops.

I quickly threw together a simple salad (literally...this KitchenWitch was a bitch by now), warmed some bread and swilled some wine while the souffle baked.

Surprisingly, it hadn't deflated too much--even with all that abuse! I mean, the pan was a wreck from all that sloshing about, but I still had fluffy, brown, eggy stuff lookin' at me.

I plated it, poured wine, we sat down, took a bite. I studied my husband. "It's not bad!" he smiled at me.

"You lying lump of turd," I said to him. "This sucks. It tastes like sweaty gym socks...not that I've eaten gym socks..."

"I was trying to be positive."

"Feel free to lie when I cook something from my recipe files--in fact, I encourage it--but this is Ina's recipe. I don't give a rip if you like it or not."

"Good to know that distinction. Duly we order pizza or something?"

We ended up settling for frozen samosa and the salad. Sorry Ina...even bacon, the superhero of food, couldn't save this one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Jill at Scary Mommy is running a contest right now, looking for the Scariest Mommy of them all. If you want to hear just what a "Scary Mommy" is, go here:

Now there are times when I'm plenty scary. Times when I let my kids eat mac and cheese 3 meals a day. Times when I lean down and hiss in Miss D.'s face, "if you touch your sister one more time today you are OVER, get it?" Times when I feel so overwhelmed, angry, out-to-sea lost that I have to lock myself in the laundry room for a while.


But this is my Entry. The Scary Mommy most like me.


Three weeks before her third birthday, Miss D. starts seeing monsters. My fierce warrior child, who fears nothing, now cowers in corners and under covers. Monsters usually appear around 3am. I wake with my heart pounding in my throat, hot with the strength of her scream.

"Monsters! Help me Mommy! I scared!"

I fumble for lights, footing and child simultaneously in the night and realize that I'm just as scared as she is.


I was almost in my third trimester with Miss D. when the newspaper was late. This drives my part-German self crazy. I need coffee and the paper to make me human in the morning; without them I am foul. Sourly, I resorted to the television. Mornings suck hard enough without some perky anchor with teeth too good to be true telling you what traffic's like Out There.

I flicked the screen on just in time to see the second tower of The World Trade Center descend into rubble and smoke.

I thought it was a joke at first, or some weird movie stunt. Everybody did. You just don't believe things like that can happen, particularly if you're my age and have missed most of the good tragedies like JFK and World Wars and even Lennon, who I was too little to know.

I spent the rest of September 11 like most Americans did, grotesquely tuned-in. I channel-surfed maniacally, looking for answers or truth or the latest horrible picture, but it was a one-handed quest. The other hand was glued to my swollen belly,and I remember looking down at it and and thinking, "What on Earth have I done?"


My friend Tamar, an Israeli Jew, taught at Hebrew University. Her son, Yarden, was born ten days before Miss D. She has lived in Jerusalem, and then Tel Aviv, and has seen unspeakable things in both.

She watched when a bomb destroyed her favorite cafe; watched when the student union blew up in her workplace--minutes before she arrived at the U. She learned to avoid crowds, buses, open-air marketplaces. She grew accustomed to having her car searched by young men in uniforms.

"It's sad, so sad, what's going on in Israel, and yet still, I feel it is my home," she wrote after yet another bombing near her neighborhood. "It's part of our life here. We live with it and we go on."

She is stronger than anyone I know and holds tight to her faith, even when horrible things happen. She sends me pictures during poppy season, her son beaming through an endless kaliedescope of orange.

I have seldom seen her rattled, but not long after Yarden's first birthday, she wrote: I had to get Yarden a gas mask today. They require every child at the daycare to have one. I haven't even bought my son a pair of real tennis shoes yet. But he has a gas mask.

She and her family now live in Chicago, and she convinces herself that she feels safe. When I ask her, she says she dreams in orange.


My sister, who used to be beautiful, has cataracts in both eyes. One more blow to either of them and she could be blinded. Her left eye is smaller and hangs lower in its socket, part of the occipital bone poking out at an awkward angle. She's lost several front teeth and dresses in long sleeves. Her husband has a temper.

We grew up side by side, camped in the backyard, had parents who loved us and spoiled us and told us we had good brains.

The last time she was hospitalized, my father offered to pay for her divorce.

"I know you don't approve, but I love him," she said. "Some people just aren't strong." She looked out the window. "I've never had any luck."


There's an old gentleman, a relative of mine, who my mother never lets me be alone in a room with--never has. He's in his 80's now, small and wizened like a bad grape. He's a God loving Baptist, has gone to church every Sunday for generations, gives hundreds of dollars to charity, is a pinnacle of the community. All the women in the family call him Papa.

When my mother was nine, Papa stuck his hands down her shirt in a dark cinema.

She ran all the way home, hysterical, and told her mother what had happened. My grandmother said, "Oh my goodness, is he still doing that?" and continued frying chicken.


I fumble for lights and words and my quivering daughter at 3am. She's sweaty and she's peed herself and she claws at my neck, burrowing her nose into my hair.

"It's okay, baby. It's okay, Mommy's here," I say, rubbing her back.

"Everything's okay, Baby. No Monsters here," I whisper, and choke on the lie.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jumbo Shrimp: Not an Oxymoron

Readers, I need to share something with you. It's time. Those of you who read this blog with any regularity have, I'm sure, figured out that I have a few (just a few, mind you!) character flaws. Hard to believe, I know.

But there's one flaw that I haven't shared with you yet. Despite many years of therapy, and tears, and hand-wringing, there's a habit I have that I just can't kick.

I cannot, for the life of me, tell any cretin who rings my doorbell selling something to Fuck Off.

In fact, the person at my door doesn't even have to be selling something. Example: I am an agnostic. I'm pretty damn sure of this. And yet,whenever those sweet-faced Mormon boys come a-calling, with their earnest smiles and their ill-fitting suits, I let them in. I give them lemonade. I let them use the loo. I won't talk religion with them, but I'll let 'em in. This summer, I had a pair of dudes who came to my house every couple of weeks, because they knew I'd let them pee and offer them popsicles. I am that bad.

And you know what? Most of the people who come to my door are selling something, because I have hardly any friends. And I'd really like to be able to tell those strangers at my door to Fuck Off. I would.

And the person I'd most like to tell to Fuck Off is The Creepy Meat Man. Miss D. came up with that title for him, and it's fitting. He makes our collective skin crawl.

Not only does he have beady little toad eyes and bad breath and maybe 5 teeth in his mouth, The Creepy Meat Man is a stalker. He rings my doorbell once a week, even though I've told him repeatedly that we have only 2 real meat eaters in the house and he should not come by more than once a month, at *most*.

Somewhere in his tiny lizard brain, The Creepy Meat Man always seems to know when I'm home. Which would be no problem if I could just ignore the doorbell. But I have children. And when the doorbell rings, my children behave eerily similar to dogs. They call out, run excitedly in circles, peek out the window.


Mostly, I say NO to The Creepy Meat Man. But once in a blue moon, I will not want to go to the grocery store, so I break down and buy something. And because of that occasional folly, I am stuck with him. Now he will not go away, no matter how often I answer the door, smile tightly and growl, "Don't need anything."

In addition to The Creepy Meat Man, we have a Not-So-Creepy Meat Man. He only comes once every six weeks and gives me free cheesecake, so of course I let him in the door. Plus, he sells really good product.

Like the GINORMOUS shrimp he carries only 4 times a year. No lie, these shrimp could eat Miss M. for breakfast...they're that big. And I can never resist them, particularly if I'm having a party.

Thus was the case the other week; I had a large bag of T-Rex Shrimp and friends coming over, so I created an appetizer with them. I'd love to say that everyone raved about how delicious the shrimp were (true) but mostly, all I got was, "Holy Crap! Look at the size of those buggers!"

And indeed, they were impressive.

Proscuitto-Wrapped T-Rex Shrimp over Greens
serves 6

12 big-ass shrimp (the biggest you can find), peeled and deveined
12 fresh basil leaves
6 slices proscuitto, thinly sliced and cut in half
6 cups mixed greens, tossed with your favorite viniagrette

Heat grill (or a grill pan) to medium-high. Season the shrimp lightly with salt and pepper. Nestle a basil leaf in the groove of each shrimp (where the vein has been taken out). Wrap shrimp tightly with the proscuitto, securing with toothpicks, if necessary. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Grill 2-5 minutes per side, depending on the size of your shrimp.

Serve over greens, drizzled with a little extra viniagrette.

*So I guess it's okay to answer the door sometimes. But seriously, I need an "Answer-The-Door" Intervention. Either that, or an advertisement in Guns-and-Ammo, because the Creepy Meat Man needs to go.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

White Bean Dip with Bacon and Rosemary

Bye, Bye Bean Week!! I must say that my digestive tract and I aren't gonna miss ya. I still had about 3 cups of beans hanging out in my refrigerator, and I just couldn't look at them any more.

So, dear readers, I cheated. I had parties to go to this weekend, so I made bean dip. A double batch. And shared. Thus, hubs and I did not solely consume our HUGE tupperware of beans. I shared. We cheated. But I suck that way and y'all know this already.

This dip is a snap to prepare, and you can either serve it in a bowl with pita chips or crudites, or you could smear it on toasted bread like a bruschetta. Don't bypass the applewood smoked bacon--it adds a nice depth of flavor.

White Bean Dip with Bacon and Rosemary
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

can easily be doubled

3 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked Great Northern beans
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2-3/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

In a small non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add beans and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Puree all ingredients except the bacon in a food processor. Stir half of the bacon into the dip; sprinkle the remaining bacon over the top. Best served either slightly warm or at room temperature.

**NewsFlash: My kids ate this dip!!! But, that said, they do like hummus (Sabra brand) and they adore bacon, so it's not a ginormous stretch. But still, I was pleased.

Epilogue: Yes, Virginia, I am tired of beans. And no, I don't think I'm up for Bean Week again any time soon. However, any of the dishes I made during Bean Week from Hell will be a nice addition to your menu...just not all in the same freaking week, okay? Your family will thank you for that.

Friday, October 16, 2009


We interrupt Bean Week From Hell for the following distraction from The Management:

Sometimes, things cannot be avoided.

Sometimes, a bitter girl-woman is dragged to a lame-ass party because she's broken too many promises already, and it's Payback Time.

Sometimes, a lame party is even lamer than the snarkiest of girls can tolerate.

Sometimes, it's a good idea to hide out in a stranger's kitchen. Because there's a guy leaning against a wall, smirk on his face, giving very witty and barbed snark to a girl who's as cuddly as a pit viper. A girl that Bitter Girl happens to loathe.

Sometimes, girls who never, ever, throw themselves at men break their own rules.

Sometimes, snark + snark = something strangely gentle.

Sometimes, it takes a few short hours to both begin and end a story.

But Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes, a very young, very scared girl in India endures a long, bloody and complicated birth. A birth unattended by her husband, who left months ago, trying to forge a fresh start in a new country, with one semester's tuition in his pocket.

Sometimes, when you have to do impossible things, you can. And you are rewarded with the greatest gift. A gift who, 30 years later, becomes the greatest gift to another woman.

Sometimes, we don't express gratitude the way we should. So. Thanks, Mom and Dad #2, for your sacrifice and your wonderful, witty, wacky boy.

He is the moon, and the stars, and the earth beneath our feet.

Happy Birthday, my Prince Charming of Snark. Always and forever.

You totally trump Bean Week, darling.

PS: It must be birthday week for some awesome men out there--my favorite this week is here:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

White Beans with Leeks and Shiitake Mushrooms

We were kind of jonesing for a hunk of protein at Chez T. I mean, we'd been doing fairly well with Bean Week, but sometimes you just cannot sustain that kind of virtue. Plus, I've gotta ease up, caterpillars...I've eaten beans for lunch and dinner for 2 days in a row and I am a Walking Chernobyl. It's baaaaaaaad.

I saw some beautiful salmon at the market, and couldn't resist. Hubs, Awesome Stepkid R. and I love salmon. Especially prepared BBQ-style.

I based the side dish on a recipe I'd seen by Jamie Oliver on his website. But, of course, I tinkered with it. Plus, I put exact measurements in my version, because a "knob of butter" and a "glassful of wine" and a "glug of olive oil" might sound charming from that baby-faced Brit, but if I tried to get away with that crap, I'd get my butt kicked.

The local market, along with gorgeous salmon, was sporting some lovely-looking shiitake mushrooms, which we don't often get, so I snapped them up. I thought they added a nice earthiness to the leeks and beans. I also added fresh thyme, for an added punch.

White Beans with Leeks and Shiitake Mushrooms
serves 3
based on Jamie Oliver's recipe for Leeks with White Beans

3 leeks, cut into coins and cleaned*
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2-1 cup dry white wine
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup white beans, cooked
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the oil and butter. Add the leeks, shallot and garlic and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or until the leeks are melting apart. Stir in the mushrooms, white beans and thyme and, if mixture seems dry, more wine. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

**Leeks are dirty little buggers. Slice them, separate them, and place in a big bowl of cold water. Swish them around for a while, drain, and repeat the process with clean water until there's no evidence of dirt.

This side dish made a terrific little bed for the salmon. I think it would be just as nice with beef or pork, too.

Easy BBQ Salmon
serves 3

3 5-6oz. salmon fillets, skin on
1/3 cup your favorite BBQ sauce (we like ours spicy and not too sweet)
splash of vermouth
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet pan or casserole dish with heavy duty foil; spray with cooking spray.

Allow the salmon to warm on the counter for 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine BBQ sauce, vermouth, and honey (if you like sweet BBQ sauce, you may decide to omit the honey).

Place salmon in foiled dish, spoon sauce over, and bake until just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I felt much better after my fishy fix, and I am happy to report that we are making a big old dent in that GINORMOUS tupperware of beans!! The light at the end of the tunnel...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mixed Greens with Goodies and Beans

Day 3 of Bean Week dawned and I had a leeetle problem. I was scheduled to make/test a recipe for Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Bisque.

"This puppy doesn't have beans in it," hubs remarked, scanning the recipe.
"Thanks, Einstein, I hadn't noticed."

Luckily, I'd planned on serving the bisque with a salad, and white beans go just fine in a tossed salad, so Bean Week was still on!

Mixed Greens with Goodies and Beans
serves about 6

3 cups mixed greens, washed and dried
1 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, drained and cut into pieces
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup slivered red onion
2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds, pine nuts, or slivered almonds
Your favorite viniagrette

The beans added a richness, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet element, the onion added punch, and the nuts/seeds added a crunchy element I liked.

Usually I make my own salad dressing, but a friend of mine recommended Brianna's Red Wine Viniagrette dressing, so we gave that a whirl. I must say, I liked it a lot! I hardly ever like the bottled dressings, but this one was delicious! I'm now keeping a jar on-hand for lazy days!

ps: Still no Beano. My mission failed; I went to the grocery store specifically FOR Beano, and when I got home, guess what I realized I'd failed to pick up? ARGH. I suck. However, this salad was relatively light on the beans, so all was fine in the end. Today, though, I need to freaking use my head and get some!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Southwestern Bean Cakes

Day 2 of Bean Week here! I decided to take a recipe from Mark Bittman for Bean Dish #2, because he knows his legumes.

However, Bittman calls his recipe for bean cakes Bean Croquettes, which made me think of a very unfortunate and nauseating incident I had with Tuna Croquettes in junior high home-ec class. No croquettes for me--cakes suit me just fine.

And, of course, I tinkered around with the recipe. It's a sickness--I cannot follow a recipe to save my life. So it's a good thing I don't bake.

Southwestern Bean Cakes
inspired by Mark Bittman's Bean Croquettes
serves 2-3

2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup salsa
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
1 egg
about 1/2 to 3/4 cup panko or breadcrumbs
olive oil
Remoulade sauce, for serving

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place all ingredients except breadcrumbs and olive oil into a food processor. Pulse until combined but still a bit chunky.

Stir in enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture but still remain quite sticky--if you add too many crumbs, your end result will be dry. At this point, I covered the mixture with plastic wrap and popped it into the refrigerator for 10 minutes while I wrangled with a feral 4 year old.

Form the mixture into cakes (I made mine about the size of crab cakes).

Heat about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet. Add bean cakes and cook until crusty and brown, about 3 minutes; flip and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat, put on a baking sheet and place in oven. They will keep in a warm oven for about 30 minutes.

I threw together a quick mixed lettuce salad, topped the bean cakes with a drizzle of Boar's Head Remoulade Sauce, placed the cold salad on top of the warm cakes and...YUM!!!

The outside was crisp, the inside was creamy and zesty, and the salad provided a nice hit of freshness.

Even hubs had to admit that this was a winner. We love crab cakes in this house, and this is a stellar veggie version.

I sauteed one up this morning, topped it with a poached egg and some salsa, and all I can say is...don't knock it 'till you try it!

**ps: I am admitting defeat and buying Beano today.

Monday, October 12, 2009

2 people, 2 pounds of beans, 1 week.

Sometimes I get flashes of complete and utter brilliance. At least I think so. And sometimes these flashes of brilliance turn into something great! At least I think so. The man in my house may not really agree.

Last week, I got one of my flashes. I was rummaging around the pantry, searching for orzo, when I spied a 2-pound bag of dried Great Northern Beans. I have no idea how they got there; I buy beans in cans. Canned beans are just too convenient for me to pass up. I know, I know, the markup on those things is criminal, but I'm lazy. Cooking dried beans requires soaking and rinsing and cooking. You know--effort.

But I saw that lowly bag of beans and--ZAPPO! Flash of brilliance! I decided that I was going to cook that whole 2-pound bag of beans and use it to feed hubs and I for an entire week with it. Because, you know, eating beans is good for you. And the economy. And the planet!

Jen at Use Real Butter and Tami at Running With Tweezers are attempting this week to feed themselves for $30. I think this is an awesome idea. Alas, I am too lazy to calculate how much every spice and vegetable costs, so I'm not joining them. I'm following their escapades with interest, though, and so should you. Because I don't know about you, but I'm imagining that it's a complete pain in the ass to feed yourself for 30 bucks a week.

But it's an ass-pain that is a reality for many people on this planet. Sadly.

So, I declared the week of October 9th-16th Bean Week at Chez T. 2 pounds of dried beans, 2 people, a week to eat them all. GENIUS!

At least I thought so. My husband was not so enthusiastic. "Am I sleeping in a separate room this week?" he said.

Well, there was that little issue. But we've been married long enough now that we know: farts happen. I considered buying Beano, but in the end I was too lazy to pick it up.

I rinsed and sorted the beans, which was a little alarming, because I found quite a few rocks cavorting around in the bag with the beans. Rocks? WTF? No wonder they always tell you to sort the beans--bummer to be tucking into a bowl of beans and crunch on a freaking rock. My bag contained 4 rocks. I have no idea if this is average or not.

Anyways, I set my HUGE dutch oven full of beans and water on the counter over night to soak. In the morning, I rinsed the beans again, put them in new (salted) water and simmered them, covered, until they were tender. I like my beans pretty tender (hence why I like canned beans) and so it took quite a while before I deemed them ready. As in, an hour and a half. And that's WITH soaking them overnight--who knew it took so long? Not me, obviously.

Then I transferred my beans to a HUGE Tupperware container and stored them in the refrigerator. One of the goals of Bean Week was to consume less meat. I decided to use small amounts of very flavorful meat to enhance the flavor of several of the dishes on the week's roster. It's good for us, right? Good for the planet, too. Good on the Wallet, yeah?

It was wicked cold this weekend; we woke up to 18 degree temperatures Saturday and Sunday morning, with flurries on and off both days. Perfect soup weather! I had clipped a recipe from O Magazine (October 2007) for White Bean Soup with Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Croutons. The recipe looked great, but I'd never gotten around to making it. Of course, when I did make it, I had to tinker with the recipe because I can't leave well enough alone.

I jettisoned the crouton idea, mainly because I don't like croutons. Is that weird? Everyone else I know loves them, but I think they're just sort of not necessary. They just sort of muck things up, I think.

I also cooked a few slices of smoked bacon and sprinkled them on top of the soup with a dusting of chopped parsley. I think a little bacon makes everything better. I also added a dash of cayenne and some thyme along with the rosemary--it made for a fuller-flavored dish.

White Bean Soup with Rosemary and Bacon
based on White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Roasted Garlic Croutons (Oct. '07, O magazine)

serves 4-5

1 whole head garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, slliced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups white beans, cooked
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Cooked crumbled bacon and chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top off the garlic head so cloves are just exposed. Rub the head with a teaspoon of olive oil and wrap loosely in foil. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes; cool until comfortable to the touch. Squeeze cloves from the heads into a small bowl and mash with a fork.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter and oil. Add onions, carrots and celery and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the broth and mashed garlic and bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook 20 minutes or until carrots are very tender. Add beans, rosemary, thyme and cayenne and cook 10-15 more minutes.

With an immersion blender or a food processor, puree 2/3 of the soup. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If desired, garnish with crumbled bacon and fresh parsley.

We thought this soup was delicious and tasted quite rich--even though it was healthy! It made for a warming meal with salad and bread.

And we did end up sleeping in separate places last night; however, it was a snoring issue, not a gas problem.

And guess what's for lunch today? Leftover soup!

Stay tuned for more episodes of Bean Week!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

White Trash Motherlode: Strawberry Shortcake

Gramma Rhetta was most famous for her fried chicken and cornbread, hands down. My Mama always tells a story about a little neighbor boy, Jakey, who had some freaky kind of chicken radar; whenever Gramma got out the skillet and glugged some oil in there, Jakey would appear like magic. He'd hang around the screen door, sniffing through the fine mesh like a stray cat.

Of course, he usually snagged an invitation to supper. Gramma never could resist a stray, human or animal.

Once, in irritation, my mother snapped at him, "Jakey, why are you always hanging around when we have chicken? Your mama makes fried chicken, too, ya know!"

Jakey smiled sheepishly and said, "I like Henrietta's chicken better. It's cripper."

Semantics aside, Jakey had a point. There wasn't crisper chicken anywhere in the county.

But when it came time for dessert, Gramma had another tool in her arsenal. On very special occasions, when true pull-out-the-stops decadence was necessary, Gramma made Strawberry Shortcake.

Most people don't understand the significance, and if you aren't a Ludlam or a Stephenson (or married to one), you wouldn't. Because a lot of people make Strawberry Shortcake. No big deal, right? Ha! What other people fail to realize is, their Strawberry Shortcake is shitty.

Strawberry Shortcake on those sponge cake rounds they sell at the grocery store? Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake on pound cake? Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake on Pop-N-Fresh biscuits? Double Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake with Reddi-Whip? Don't get me started.

No, no, no. Gramma made a shortcake dough from scratch, so buttery and rich it almost oozed off the countertop. And then she'd sprinkle coarse sugar on the top of it, which made every bite crackle just so. And after it was baked and barely cool enough to handle, she'd split that sucker open and slather MORE sweet butter between the layers.

And then came the real cream, the kind from the local cows, whipped with vanilla and superfine sugar into frothy nirvana. No fake dreck from a can for Gramma.

And of course, the strawberries. Gramma only made Shortcake in June and July. Only the best berries need apply. And she wasn't stingy with them either. Actually, she wasn't stingy with anything when it came to that dessert.

It was such a gut-buster, so rich and overflowing with opulence, that we only ate Strawberry Shortcake once a year. Maybe twice, tops. And, the very best part?

Gramma let us eat Strawberry Shortcake for lunch. Just Shortcake. Because really, who wanted to eat anything else when faced with such beauty? My sister and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

When Shortcake Day rolled around, my sister and I gorked around all morning, busting at the seams to tuck into a humongous, towering slice. Our enthusiasm was always lunchtime, even the adults scrambled to the table.

Legend has it that Wild Uncle Johnny brought his first fiancee, Lou, over to Gramma's house one Shortcake Day. Lou was completely baffled by all of the hoopla and pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.

"For Heaven's Sake," she said, a little peevish. "It's just Strawberry Shortcake."

Everyone in the room stared at her, gobsmacked and slack-jawed. *Just* Strawberry Shortcake? This girl clearly had mental deficiencies.

Now that I think on it, no wonder that marriage was doomed. Strawberry Shortcake Day was momentous!

Strawberry Shortcake Days were some of the most memorable days of my life.

Alas, when Gramma died, her recipe went with her. I've tried to duplicate it many times, without success.

Miss D. chose this recipe from the White Trash Motherlode book to make together this week. It had all the necessary things--butter, flour, sugar, milk, berries, cream. And the girls enjoyed making it and ate the finished product, happily.

I poked listlessly at mine and couldn't be bothered. Strawberry Shortcake just isn't much fun without Gramma or an entire morning of fanfare. Some traditions are meant to die, but it doesn't mean they're forgotten.

Strawberry Shortcake
serves 6

1 pint strawberries, washed and sliced
1/4 cup sugar

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
Sweetened whipped cream, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place strawberries in a large bowl; toss with 1/4 cup sugar and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir in the milk and melted butter until the dough forms a ball.

Pat the dough out onto a clean surface to a 1-inch thickness.

Cut 6 circles in the dough with a round cookie cutter or cut into six free-form pieces, whichever you prefer.

Place the shortcakes on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.

Spread each cake with whipped cream and top with strawberries.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ina's Cheddar-Corn Chowder

Barefoot Bloggers is at it again! Jan from My Next Life chose the first October recipe: Cheddar-Corn Chowder.

You can find the recipe here:

When I first scanned the recipe, I had a few thoughts:

a) This soup is an ass buster! Bacon fat, butter, olive oil and 2 cups of half and half? If I'm going to commit calorie suicide, I'm doing it with french fries, or a big old burger--not soup, for chrissakes!

b) This soup feeds 10-12 people. Do I even know 10-12 people? Do I have a pot big enough to contain this monster?

c) How many times am I willing to eat this soup in the next week?

The brain was a-churnin' over here at Chez T.

One think I love about the Food Network website is the "reader comments" section that comes with each recipe. You can learn a lot about a recipe--and often avoid pitfalls/mistakes-- by perusing the comments section. Most Food Network junkies know something about cooking, so the hints they give are usually spot-on.

Many readers also noted the ass-busting properties of this soup. Quite a bit of tinkering went on with Ina's recipe. Some people omitted the olive oil completely and found that it worked just fine. Some people used milk instead of half and half. Some people omitted the bacon(NOT something I was willing to do). Some people pureed some of the soup and then stirred it back into the pot to thicken, rather than use half and half. I learned a lot.

I ended up omitting the olive oil. Didn't miss it. The flavor you get from the bacon fat is plenty sufficient. I also halved the amounts of butter and flour--the chowder was still plenty thick enough. I substituted whole milk for the half and half, and I gave the soup a quick whir with my immersion blender; I pureed just enough of the soup to give creamy consistency but still left plenty of chunky goodness. I mean, it is a chowder, not a bisque.

I also used very good, very strong cheese for optimal flavor. Some readers found the chowder bland, and I think it's because they used mediocre cheese. In fact, instead of cheddar, I used pepper jack. I loved the kick it gave the chowder. I also stacked the flavor deck in my favor by using smoked bacon--that extra oomph of smokiness really improved things.

And then I invited a few friends and neighbors over for Soup and Salad Wednesday. Luckily, it's been rainy and grim here, and people were definitely in the mood for a comforting bowl of chowder. And even after we did our best, there were plenty of tupperware containers travelling home.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sneaky Snacktime

I'm ashamed to say it, but when it comes to getting vegetables into my kids, I'm supremely ineffective.

And I hate to admit it, but I was raised better. Growing up, when my sister and I begged for a snack before dinner, mama calmly sliced up some celery, or green pepper, or cucumber, or even, god forbid radish... plopped the lot onto a plate and...we ate it. Happily. No lyin'.

Growing up, on our dinner table, there was both a salad AND another vegetable served at almost every meal. I think the only time there wasn't a salad on the table was Thanksgiving dinner (creamed pearl onions took it's place). My sister and I loved salad. Still do.

My kids wouldn't touch a salad, even if you mixed in Twizzlers with the greens.

I suck.

Miss M. eats corn and that's it. Pathetic. I fare better with Miss D. (well, who could do worse, really?) Over the course of the summer, she's expanded her repetoire of vegetables she will eat. I'm happy to say that to the list of cucumbers, corn and frozen peas, she's agreed to consume (in small amounts) red peppers, green peppers, carrots, grape tomatoes and cauliflower. I am quite proud, although the credit goes to her and her alone.

Still, my kids won't eat salad and it bugs me. Salad is awesome! It's one of my favorite things to eat, and I've even gotten my husband to like it, mainly because I stick a lot of goodies in there like bits of cheese, artichoke hearts and bacon.

My kids don't like salad dressing. ANY salad dressing. Believe me, I've tried dozens. And if a kid won't eat the ubiquitous Ranch dressing, the stuff that almost ALL mommies use as a vehicle to get veggies into their kids, mommy and her veggies are toast.

I decided to give salad dressing yet another go with Miss D. But this time, I decided, I needed to get smarter about things.

Strategy #1) My mama was smart enough to give us the veggies before dinner, when we were really hungry. Why not wait for a time when Miss D. is typically ravenous, such as after school?

Strategy #2) I'd make the salad dressing myself, and make it very simple. I mixed buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and some fresh chives together in my new (now with a lid!) blender. I pulverized it (so she couldn't detect the chive...God forbid there is something green in the dressing).

Strategy #3) I introduced the salad dressing by serving it with vegetables she already likes.

Strategy #4) I'd serve it in something that would make her feel very grown up and refined.

Simplest Dressing Ever

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 fresh chives, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper
salt and pepper to taste

I tasted this concoction and thought--meh. It wasn't really flavorful, but she didn't seem to like the flavorful dressings (eg: caesar, dijon viniagrette). But she didn't much like the bland ones, either.

When she got home from school, I told her she had a very special snack waiting for her. I went into the refrigerator and pulled her Veggie Martini out.

She was pretty excited to eat it, and she definitely liked having her own little cocktail after school, even if was a veggie-tail.

She took a strip of red pepper, which was barely coated with the dressing, and ate it. I waited. A cucumber followed. Then I couldn't help myself...I just had to ask.

"Sooo," I said (trying desperately to sound causual), "What do you think of the dip?"

"It's good," she said, "but actually, it's sorta weird. Can you wash it off?"

Sigh. I rinsed off the veggies, plopped them back in the vessel, and she happily crunched away.

The girl, for now, will take her cocktail naked, thank you very much. There's worse things, I suppose.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Miss Chicken Wing

4 pound flash of blood and light--
Kept warm like Sunday dinner, tubes
in places you shouldn't know yet. Yet.
You are you and you are here and you
are mine. And grandpa is waiting, mask
hanging, slack and stupid. Welcome.

Happy 4th, Miss Chicken Wing! For a girl so small, you sure filled up our life.

A Little Tooth
by Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over; she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Green Tomato Love

The K and T Victory garden is churning out green tomatoes like nobody's business. My neighbor Jen brought a huge bowl over, shook her head at me and said, "What on Earth are we gonna do with all of these?"

And yeah, we fried some of them. They were delicious, of course. I mean, you could deep fry a hairball and it'd probably taste all right. But we had loads of green tomatoes. They hung, saucy and plump, mocking us from the vine.

I did a little Internet detective work and came up with an answer to our Green Tomato Conundrum: Chow Chow Relish.

I've only encountered Chow Chow Relish once in my life. When my family first moved to the Rockies, a neighbor of ours named Diane made us feel very welcome. She had that Southern Hospitality thing down pat. She was also an avid gardener; most summer days, she was outside, gloves on, puttering around in plantworld, and would give a friendly wave as I whizzed by.

That first summer, Diane was up to her ears in green tomatoes. She showed up at our door one afternoon with 3 big mason jars, filled with some violently yellow, chunky substance.

"Homemade Chow Chow," she said proudly.

I took the jars, suspicious. I thanked her--I think--and took the jars to Mama.

"Oh, Chow Chow," Mama said, pleased.

I couldn't believe she knew what this crazy-ass stuff was. I just looked at those jars, eyes a-buggin'.

"It's like relish," Mama said. "You like pickles."

Umm, yeah...I like the green, crunchy, normal Claussen pickles that go with ham sandwiches. Chow Chow had chunks of stuff in it. And it looked like mustard, which back then, was akin to lye in my opinion. Not to be ingested. At all costs.

That night, at dinner, a huge jar of Chow Chow appeared, next to the ketchup.

"I'm not trying that gunk," my sister said.

"Fine," my mother said, slathering the stuff on her hamburger. "You don't know what you are missing."

Turned out, nobody in the family was willing to give Chow Chow the benefit of the doubt save Mama. But in her typical Mama way, she set out that jar whenever burgers, hot dogs, chicken or chops came off the grill. And we did our best to avoid looking at it.

I wondered if every Fall was going to be like this. Come September, was I always going to have to play a game of Ignore the Chow Chow?

Lucky for me, Daddy saved us. The next summer, in an angry rampage against The Grasshopper Invasion from Hell, Daddy sprayed our entire backyard with Agent Orange. On a breezy day.

Diane's garden was toast. She sent her husband over to rail at Daddy, because she was mad enough to pound him good. She was decidedly cooler to us after the Agent Orange Incident. And I never had to face Chow Chow again.

Until now.

Second chances are lovely and generous things. At least, that's what I told my husband, as he fled the house, gagging at the odor of vinegar and pickling spices. It was a fair trade. Jen was next to me, slicing and dicing, and hubs escaped next door with the NFL for a while.

We had so many green dudes that we doubled the recipe. And now we are left with enough Chow Chow to torment an entire neighborhood.

Which is exactly what we intend to do.

Beware, neighborhood children. Your doorbells will be ringing soon.

Chow Chow
recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustand
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

2 pounds green tomatoes, chopped
2 cups diced onion

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until reduced slightly.

Add the onions and the tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes.

**Verdict: Certainly not the gag-fest I expected as a child. In my opinion, Florence's version is too sweet and not quite spicy enough. I would reduce the sugar by AT LEAST 1/3, and I'd add a good teaspoon of chile flakes to the pot.

Jen, however, was pleased. "It's sweet!" she said. "It'll go great with Tandoori Chicken!" And that's exactly what we did. I had to agree, with a spicy dish, Chow Chow somehow works.

Later on in the week, I topped a burger with it, which made my husband green around the gills. I'm tempted to keep a jar of Chow Chow around at all times, just to watch him squirm.