Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Enemy of the State

Monday, February 28, 2011 By

I am an enemy of the people.

Are you frightened?

Recently, I found out that I have been cast in with a group of people deemed politically distasteful by a certain individual in the community. I am unworthy. I am verboten. I am even a little dangerous.

Well. Color me surprised. I mean, all this time, I had no idea that I was part of the effort to destroy our great republic.

Let me tell you my goals in life:

1. I want to be a great mom - I mean a SUPER great mom. Not Betty Crocker traditional. I want to be the kind of mom who teaches her child to be independent, to pull herself up by her bootstraps when necessary, to put her brain before her feelings, to value education and integrity, and to enjoy her life. I want to be the kind of mom no mom has ever been because we are mere mortals.

2. I want to be a solid employee. I want to be the kind of person people can trust, and to whom they can turn when they need something. I want to turn out work that is consistent, and that contributes to the progress of the employer I chose specifically because of their contributions to the community. (and, okay, the rad benefits package)

3. I want to make someone laugh every day.

4. I'd like to travel. A lot. Any sponsors?

That's pretty much it. None of those involve destroying the American way of life.
I don't have any lofty goals to win a Pulitzer - or even a Webby. I mean, yeah, everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done. But most professionals go through their careers just doing their jobs and never get to put a certificate or a plaque on their walls. ("Accountant of the Year?" Doesn't exist.) And I don't need to make it to "Saturday Night Live." I just want to bring a smile to someone's face every day.

At no point did I think to myself, "Yes, I'd like to bog down the gears of government with hateful, angry rhetoric and fear-mongering." But the people who have cast me in with a group of Social Untouchables perpetuate just that agenda. Our way, or get out of the way.

Well, I'm okay with that. I really am. Some of these people in this group I really liked. A couple of them gave me the creeps. And one of those creeps has been very publicly outed for his predilections.

Yet, the person who deemed me unacceptable has not wavered from supporting Creepy McCreeperson. So, like a former boss who brought a colorful variety of certifiably insane people into his life but chose to think the worst of me (he's awesome, but for a while his judgment of me really hurt), it's quite easy to conclude that I don't need that person's approval.

... Then, again, I'm blogging about it. So maybe I want it anyway.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Morning breath

Friday, February 25, 2011 By

I'm at my desk, getting some copy ready to post, when a co-worker walks in.

"Hey, Stacey, I - what are you doing?" she interrupts herself.

I follow her gaze to my bowl. "Eating breakfast."

"That's a salad."


"For breakfast?"

"I... like salad?"

"But... for breakfast?!"


She stares at me, obviously thinking I am some kind of nutburger. What's so frightening about vegetables in the morning? I happen to know that in China, they often have soup for breakfast. Still, I feel a little like that kid at the middle school lunch table whose mom packed him a love note. Cultural prejudices run deep, and people are weird about vegetables.

"But, look, it has bacon in it...?" I try to defend myself.


"But -"


"Okay..." I set the bowl aside, shaking with laughter. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

She pauses, frowns. "I have no idea," she says, and walks out.

When she is gone, I finish my tasty salad. It is awesome. With or without bacon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This one took some figuring

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 By

Emmie and I were playing on the couch when she leapt into the air.

"Grandimode!" she yelled, and landed in a fighting stance.

What the heck?

"What... What does 'grandimode' mean, Doodle?" I asked.

"Dat's wut you say when you jumping. GRANDIMODE!" she hollered again.

Long story short, she meant "Geronimo." I swear, there are times when I wonder if she needs a hearing aid... and then I remember how little I listened to my own mother.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Feminism fail

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 By

Emmie is suddenly pretty intense about getting ready for school.

"How do I look?" she'll ask.

"Beautiful, as always," I tell her.

The other morning she was especially industrious, putting on her kiddie glitter makeup and spritzing herself with my body spray.

"What's with the fancy, Doodle?"

"I'm tryeend ta attrack boys," she said.

This concerned me. A lot. For one, Emerson will never be allowed to date. Ever. For two, I will kill any boys who come near her. Oh, I want her to have a healthy sexuality and to be comfortable with it, and all. I just don't want her to ever use it.

Yet, in a rare moment of self-restraint, I did not padlock her in a tower.

"Whatcha gonna do with them if you catch them?" I asked, as nonchalantly as one can when plotting where to hide bodies.

Emmie narrowed her eyes, looked off into the distance and growled, "Make dem do stuff for me."

"Oh, right on," I said.

I really have to work on this verbal incontinence.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stacey's World

Monday, February 21, 2011 By

This is "Christina's World," a 1948 painting by American artist Andrew Wyeth, currently part of New York's Museum of Modern Art collection.

I first came across this painting when I was 7 years old. My mother had a huge art history book, and I liked to lay on the floor and thumb through the pages. I liked this painting very much, because it reminded me of my favorite books, the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My father walked past me in the living room one day and saw what I was doing.

"You know why she's sitting there?" he asked. I shook my head. "Because she got run over by a tractor and is waiting for help."

That is my dad, y'all. Always looking for somewhere to insert a joke, even if he has to fabricate it out of thin air... and, in the process, horrify an impressionable and romantic 7-year-old.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Optimod unleashed - in my face

Saturday, February 19, 2011 By

Scott is practicing for his concert. This is a super-fun experience for his wife, who lives in a very small house with him. Really.

He's translating some stuff into Italian for his banter - I missed why and I don't really care - and is screwing it all up to comic effect.

"Scott, it's reh-GAT-si," I correct him, like I freaking know. But I know it's not "reegoatzee."

He corrects himself and moves on, getting to some audience participation stuff: "But we're Irish, we don't know how to dance. Will you teach us?" he calls to his imaginary audience.

"Hey, Irish people know how to dance! Hello? Step-dancing?" I call. Clan McGowen unite!

He saunters in, smugly: "Yeah, but that's what Bono said when they went to Europe."

"Yeah... babe, Ireland is in Europe."

I don't think you want to see what he did with his middle finger.

Colin Firth sent me a Valentine's Day song

Saturday, February 19, 2011 By

Y'all didn't know that Colin Firth sings, did you? Well, he does, to me.
(Call me, Colin)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fun in a bottle

Friday, February 18, 2011 By

"So, what's up with the cleanse your husband is doing?" I ask a friend.

This friend's husband is a world-class athlete. He eats healthy, exercises religiously and inspires others (but, uh, not me) to get in shape and do crazy stuff like Ironman. Not me. I swam when I was younger and fenced in college. But the former was 100 years ago, and the latter was - well, there might have been a boy involved.

"I don't know. He does crazy stuff all the time - weird diets," she says. "I'm like, 'You, of all people, should know better.'"

"It's probably to do with him being an athlete; pushing the limits of his body," I guess.

"Probably," she muses.

"I just want to push my body up to a bar," I joke.

She laughs: "Yum!"

"I don't want to push my body's limits. I don't want to push it down the street really fast. Master cleanse? No fun. Vodka? Fun in a bottle."

I wonder if my once-a-year evening to imbibe is coming up soon... I could use it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not a Wimpy Kid

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 By

Emmie's on restriction for running her mouth in class, like, ALL THE TIME. So she can't watch TV, play the Wii, play on the computer, wear her new princess dress, or play with my makeup.

"But... what can I do?" She asks, eyebrows back on her forehead like a begging dog.

"I'm sure you'll think of something," I answer, trying not to look at her for fear that I'll start laughing.

"Huuuuuuuhhhh..." She sighs, and flops out of the room like a fish with legs.

Shortly, however, she prances back in, carrying a tiny, rainbow-hued spiral notebook.

"I'm goeend ta write in my diary," she announces, airily.

"Oh, that's a wonderful idea," I enthuse. God, anything but Uno. That was $4 well spent, but it's wearing a little thin. Plus, well... she kicks our butts.

"I LUB my diary," she says, daintily setting up her writing area. "Not da kind dat makes poopy. Da kind wif da stories."

*choke * sputter *

"Um... What?" I manage to ask.

"Da story kind. Not da poopy kind."

"I... don't understand...?"

"Of da diary!" She exclaims. "Not da poopy diary! Story diary!"

Oh. Ha. She means "diarrhea." Apparently I didn't explain the difference very well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Coolness Factor goes to eleven

Monday, February 14, 2011 By

Caribbean salmon with black beans

An email I received:

Hi Stacey -

I just wanted to let you know that we’re planning to feature your recipe in our April/May issue. It sounds and looks delicious! I’ll be in touch if we have any questions, but thanks again for submitting this recipe (which we also plan to include in our community cookbook).


Amy Palanjian
Deputy Editor

Holy crap, you guys! I got this e-mail on the same day I was to cook this recipe on my sweet friend's cooking show on Atlantic Broadband cable. Eileen - best known as Madjon to her fans - hosts the show and asked me to come on and cook after listening to me crow about my creations on Facebook. Mama always said not to brag but, hey, sometimes it's fun and productive! And if Miss Eileen and my 6-year-old think I can cook something, well, I don't need ReadyMade Magazine to validate it.

(Haha, just kidding, ReadyMade... call me any time!)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spinach-Leek Pastry

Saturday, February 12, 2011 By No comments

I've devised this recipe for a far-away friend who does not eat meat. While I am not currently a vegetarian, I did avoid meat for a number of years. So I understand the difficulty in finding new and easy preparations. This isn't necessarily difficult, but it does take almost an hour, with cooking time added in.

Spinach-Leek Pastry
2 leeks (or a mess of green or otherwise mild onions), thinly sliced
1.5 baking potatoes, thinly sliced (can be omitted)
2 cups torn spinach leaves, stems removed
1 8 oz. container of feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
1 cup mozzarella
3 cups milk
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 pkg of puff pastry dough
tbsp flour, and some for dusting
butter, 2 tbsp melted and 2 tbsp just softened
oregano, basil and thyme

Preheat oven to 400. In a large pot or enormous skillet, melt the butter and then saute the garlic, leeks and potatoes with a dash of oregano, basil and thyme, until the potatoes are close to tender.

Dust flour onto a baking pan, and roll out the first pastry sheet. Evenly layer the potato-leek mixture, the torn spinach, feta cheese and mozzarella.

Combine two tbsp butter and 2 tbsp flour in a bowl and mix with a fork until very well combined. In a saucepan (or just reuse the first pot, who cares?), melt the butter mixture. Add the milk. Slowly, whisking constantly, heat the milk through. Bring it to just at a boil for 30 seconds to a minute - whisk! whisk! - and remove from heat. Whisk some more. There should be a nice white sauce.

Pour sauce over vegetables cautiously. You don't want it to run out over the sides of the pastry. It'll be too messy to cook properly. Lay the second pastry on top, crimp the sides down with a fork, and brush with melted butter.

Cover with aluminum foil and pop into the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until pastry is cooked through.

Variations: You can really use almost any sauce with this, to give it a different flavor. Italian red sauce, Indian korma, French thyme. Not all sauces cook well inside a pastry, so you might want to think about that before you cook it. You might cook the pastry, and have the sauce for dipping. If you're doing Indian, you'll want to use a much milder cheese than these two listed. And if you're doing French, no cheese at all.

Consider adding mushrooms, watercress, legumes or lentils that have been well-drained, chopped asparagus, or artichoke hearts. You might substitute the potato for parsnips or turnip root. You could substitute the spinach for kale, broccoli rabe, or even cabbage. Whatever you have on hand will probably do.

Instead of making a pie-type pastry, you can also spread the ingredients across each sheet of pastry and then roll it up. In that case, I would find a way to hold it together with toothpicks while it cooks in the oven. But you could also put it in a pie or casserole pan and cook it open faced. In that case, though, I'd wait until the last 10-15 minutes of baking to sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the top.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Static on the line

I was on I-20, headed to Atlanta, when my cell phone rang.


"Hey..." says a male baritone.

"Hey," I reply. I don't recognize the voice.

"I, uh, I know I haven't called you in a while, but I was wondering if maybe we could get together tomorrow and kick it like old times," he said. I definitely have no idea who this is.

"Well, I'm on the road to Atlanta right now. Where are you?" I ask.

"... Who dis?!" he asks.

"Who dis?" I laugh.

"Um, I think I have the wrong number."

Yes, I think you do.

Sesame-soy Ahi with fresh green beans and cucumbers

Friday, February 11, 2011 By No comments

Imagine my surprise when I found a bag of frozen Ahi at Sam's Club. "No way this is going to be worth $12," I thought. And then I bought it anyway.

The bag yielded six tuna steaks almost two inches thick and about the size of the palm of my hand. They were individually sealed and they thawed to a bright pink-red. They were lovely and surprisingly delicious!

I thought about how to use what I already had in my kitchen, and got to work.

Ahi with marinated cucumbers

4 Ahi steaks
3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 sesame oil (don't substitute, please; you won't get the same flavor)
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tsp garlic paste or minced garlic

A note: always treat the Ahi gently.

Lay the Ahi in a single layer in plastic storage container with an airtight lid or in a self-sealing food storage bag big enough to hold all of them. Whisk together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then pour 2/3 of it over the tuna. Make sure each piece is well coated. Seal container. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature, then pop it in the fridge until it's time to cook.

Slice a cucumber to whatever thickness you desire and put them in an airtight bowl or self-sealing food storage bag. Pour the remaining marinade over the cucumber, stir or shake to make sure all slices are well covered. Seal the container and pop it into the fridge.

You can let the tuna and cucumber marinate all day, but don't give it less than 30 minutes.

To cook the tuna, heat 2 tbsp of sesame oil in a non-stick pan on medium to medium-high, depending on what kind of stove you have. Gas stoves tend to cook faster, and have higher temperatures. We have a smooth-top stove, and it cooks a little lower. So I put mine on medium-high.

Lay the tuna steaks in the pan, and sear until the pale color of the cooked fish is 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick, about 3 minutes. Turn. You should see a nice sear on the outside of the fish. If not, up the heat a notch. Cook the same way on this side.

Ahi is meant to be served medium-rare. If that is not to your choosing, then cook it a little slower on lower heat, so the outside doesn't burn before the inside is cooked to your liking.

Give the top of the tuna a light dusting of lemon pepper when you're ready to serve. Arrange slices of marinated cucumber on the side. Voila!

Optional: Okay, if you don't have sesame oil, use some unflavored oil, like canola. Then sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds before serving. Or, you can skip the oil altogether and use rice-wine vinegar. In that case, though, go light on the lime juice. The dish will be much tangier, and less balanced, but still very good.

Stir-fried green beans (haricot vert if you're nasty)
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp garlic paste or minced garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 lb. fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1/4 of a sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

Heat the sesame oil on medium in a large skillet or wok. Saute garlic and onion until onion turns translucent. Add in green beans and saute until they begin to sear. Add in soy sauce and chicken stock, and cook until tender-crisp. Optional: sprinkle beans with sesame seeds before serving.

I re-purposed some leftover fried rice from Chinese delivery by tossing it in the green bean pan when I was done, and adding a 1/4 cup of chicken stock. I stir-fried it until the stock had disappeared and the rice was heated through.

To keep the calorie and carb count down, skip the fried rice. Or substitute boiled brown rice, or try some of the black rice that's available out there. I love black rice. It's nutty, has a great chewy texture, and it's full of fiber.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The question we all ask ourselves

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 By

I am watching some show on TV with Emmie, and the character's father laments his relationship with his daughter.

"You know, you want to tell them how much you love them, but not too much and not too little," he says. "Too much, and it looses its value. Too little, and they question your feelings."

I look at Em. She is busy drawing on herself... awesome. I tell her a billion times a day how much I love her. I want her to feel like she's wrapped in a blanket of adoration. When she looks back on her childhood, I want her to say the same thing that Russell Joel Brown once told me when I interviewed him for a story about local celebrities' favorite Christmas gifts. He said, "I had a really beautiful childhood. I wish every child could have a childhood like mine."

Of course, once she turns 17, she'll probably dye her blonde hair black, start wearing a dog collar and begin lamenting her bourgeois parents. This is why we have a convent all picked out for her.

Still, I have hope. I want to act on that, not fear. And my affection for her isn't dutiful. It's spontaneous and true. When she snuggles in the bed with me at night, I'm overjoyed to find room that doesn't exist in the bed and kiss her head while she snores gently.

Still, I wonder...

"Emmie, do I tell you that I love you too much, or too little, or the right amount?"

She crinkles her forehead, as she puts another petal on the flower she's drawing on her arm. After a moment's thought, she shakes her head.

"Ummmm... Too much," she says, and then grins up at me. "But iss jus' da right amount for me."

Monday, February 07, 2011

My parents called it 'stubborn' - I call it 'awesome'

Monday, February 07, 2011 By

Emmie comes up to me with a deck of cards: "Pick a card, any card," she says.

I pull out the Jack of clubs.

She reshuffles the deck. I watch intently. She has seen the card, but if she can just find it again, I'll be impressed.

She tilts her head and squints her eyes: "Iiiiiisss this your card?"

It is the five of hearts.

"No, sweetie."

She frowns. Ponders the deck. Pulls one.

"Iiiiiiissss this your card?"

It is the King of spades.

"No, darling."

"Hmmm..." she says. Thinks. Pulls another.

"Iiiiiiisss this your card?"

It is not my card. None of the next five are my card. Nor are the next 10.

"I'm doing magic," she tells me, confident and undeterred.

"I can see that. You made my card disappear."

It is good she doesn't get my joke. I like he persistence, her assurance. She has no idea how to do this trick, but she knows she can. She just keeps trying. Sometimes I worry that she'll lack confidence or determination. But then I remember how much of it she was born with, naturally.

I always think back to when she was an infant, crawling on the hardwood floors in our old apartment on the Hill. Whenever she came to an inanimate obstacle, she refused to crawl around it. In a show of genetic solidarity with both her father and me, she just put her head down and pushed her way through. I once watched her roll the office chair, with her head, all the way across the living room.

She often hung on to the dog's tail or collar, and let Scrabble drag her around while she belly-laughed and I chased them both, trying to catch them, panicked that she would fall and hit her head. Which, of course, she did several times. She'd cry - and then get back up again.

But when there was no 11-pound beast of burden to ferry her to her next destination, she crawled with such determination that I knew she was going to be trouble. If she came to Scrabble lounging in a patch of sunlight in her path, she would bellow, "MOOB, RARA!" And he did, every time.

She was 13-months old.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Sunday, February 06, 2011 By

We're having dinner "wif da ninja chefs," as Emmie refers to the folks at any hibachi or sushi restaurant.

"Okay, do you want your rice dinner with chicken, shrimp, steak, or salmon?" I ask her.

"Um, mama? Can I hab sum octopus?"

"Yes, we just handed him our sushi order. Now we have to tell him which rice dinner you want: chicken, shrimp, steak, or salmon?"

"Um, when is our food goeend ta come?"

"When. We. Give. Them. Our. Order. Do you want chicken, shrimp, steak, or salmon?"

"Oh, I want rice."


"Yes. It comes with rice. But what do you want WITH it?"

"Can I hab octopus?"


Friday, February 04, 2011

Food fight victory

Friday, February 04, 2011 By

Emmie has been rejecting vegetables lately. If they don't come from "da ninja chef," as she calls hibachi cooks, or doused in cheese, she pretty much wants to pick all vegetables out of her food. She will eat mushrooms, olives, sweet potatoes, corn, baby peas, some seasoned beans, and Wife Saver's green beans. Everything else is a food fight.

I think I found success when I devised a plan to use up a pound of baby carrots. Emmie ate her portion, then stole most of mine, then went into the kitchen, got the bowl of carrots, brought it to the table and ate the rest of them.

Cactus Juice Carrots

1/2 pound of baby carrots, sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup low-cal/low-fat butter substitute
1/4 cup of Agave nectar* (find it near honey in the grocery store)
2 tbsp Splenda, to help it thicken (or maybe you can use cornstarch? I don't know)

Fill pot with just enough water to cover the carrots by an inch. Bring to a boil. Throw in carrots and boil until just barely tender. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in same pot. Add Agave and Splenda, and stir well. Allow mixture to reduce on medium to med-high heat until it is a brownish color and slightly thickened. Return carrots to the pot and cook over medium-low for five minutes, stirring often to coat. Serve quickly, and stay out of Emmie's way.

* I started using agave a couple of months ago after my sister suggested it. We were buying a lot of honey, while trying to stay away from high-sugar foods. At it turns out, I wasn't doing that so well. Agave has a glycemic value of 27; honey, 83 and sugar, 92. Emmie fell in love with it after I started calling it "cactus juice."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

I'm just sayin'...

Thursday, February 03, 2011 By

This is what Chicago will look like after the zombie apocalypse. Mother Nature is giving you a sneak peek - take notes!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Santa in my closet

Wednesday, February 02, 2011 By

Emmie was disappointed that Santa didn't bring her a dang Barbie scooter this year. I had to no idea that would be THE gift she wanted this year, since she already has two bikes (one with training wheels, one for when she grows a pair), so a scooter seemed completely unnecessary.

Every time we went to a gift-opening extravaganza - as our extended family is ridiculously generous, there were several - she would lean over and whisper, "But, Mama, I diddin get a skooder." So her disappointment - masked by the good manners we had practiced - revealed itself to me.

Geez, Santa. How are you so lame?

Then - lo! The angel of the lord revealed to me the very same scooter she wanted on sale for half-price at just $15. Her birthday is just one month after Christmas. So I bought it and asked Scott to hide it in the storage shed. Instead, he put it in the coat closet.

"She'll find it there," I said.
"No, she won't. She never goes in there."
"She will! It's Murphy's Law!"
"Trust me."

I'll give you one guess as to who is right, and who is dead.

"MAMAAAAAAA!" Emmie careened into my room. "I godda SKOOODER!"

Man... I knew it!

"Santa Claus DID bringed it! He jus' HIDE it from me!" she shrieked, while I stood speechless.

"Dat Santa Claus..." she put her hands on her hips and shook her curls. "He so silly."