Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Well, yup, looks like #3 is the winner. As I thought, you all picked the most interesting/prettiest picture, while I'm drawn to the fourth one, which actually looks a lot more like everyday Rosie. The third picture is her quizzical, head-tilted look. And the reason it's so cute is that it's rare. Which makes it more precious, right?

So, if I can get my stupid printer to stop jamming, and figure out how to fit a square picture attractively into a rectangular frame, I'll be printing out a copy of #3 to share with all my coworkers.

Thanks so much for joining in the fun! And Liz...I told you, you can only pick one. *shakes head* There's always one in a crowd.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Meeting Chefs

(For those who may not know, NSFW is a common internet acronym meaning "Not Safe For Work." In other words, if your child or mother-in-law is in the room, you might not want to follow the one link below labeled as such.)

Aaargh! The alarm went off at "six-something" this morning. On a Saturday. A cold, wet, dark Saturday. I had been sleeping so peacefully, snuggled up under the down comforter, probably dreaming of goofing off at work or something.

But it's market day. The Matthews local market only happens every other week in winter, and it's Miss Chef's best chance to meet the farmers she's started to develop relationships with. And she needed to talk to some farmers.

So, why didn't I just say, "Have fun, honey," roll over and start snoring again? Well, to be honest, I've been kind of holding out on you. Miss Chef and I are in the planning stages of starting up a market-related business of our own. I'm not going to tell you what it is until/unless we get a little further in our planning, and I also get Miss Chef's permission. Who knows, it may end up being a pipe dream, but for the moment it's kind of exciting!

Suffice it to say, I really needed to go and start to know the farmers, too. Not that I haven't met them a number of times, but most of them don't recognize me without Miss Chef. So I let her pester me out of bed and out the door--slowly, but we did leave only 10 minutes after she'd hoped. And, in spite of our fifth straight day of gloom and rain, the market was busy! We did our networking, bought a few things--spinach, goat cheese, breakfast (mmm...pound cake!)--and chatted with lots of people.

While we were talking to Michele, of Bosky Acres and goat-cheese caramel fame, she introduced us to a customer, explaining that Miss Chef works in the restaurant across the street. She seemed politely interested until she heard the word "sous-chef," then suddenly her hand was pointed at Miss Chef's chest, as she said, "Hi, I'm Lauren." Um, ok. Nice to meet you? It was kind of weird, but whatever; for the same kind of reason, Miss Chef no longer wears her jacket into a grocery store. She'd really rather just get her cheese and get out.

Of course, she's not the only kitchen professional who frequents the market incognito. Today, as usual, we saw Miss Chef's Chef, who looked more awake than I felt, unlike the last market. Keep in mind, however, that he showed up more than an hour after we did, and he only lives 10 minutes away. I also spotted another guy striding across the market with a huge plastic bag of greens--between the way he was walking and the outsize portions of food, I had to ask Miss Chef, "Do you know who that is?" She did.

Later, we spotted one of Miss Chef's former instructors from the Art Institute where she got her culinary degree. Chef Bonaparte (that's his real name, but no, he's not French) was actually the Director of the culinary program, but has since moved up into a more national administrative position. He's a great teacher, very passionate about food, and a fun, interesting guy. On the other hand, he is surprisingly shy. When doing a demo at the market, he's quite happy to be in front of an audience--but there, he's in his chef whites behind a table, cutting, sautéing or mixing. Put him in jeans and a t-shirt, out in the open, and he's got a kind of "aw shucks" way of fidgeting about, as if trying to avoid your gaze.

On the way home, I started to think about how lucky I am to have been able to get to know several chefs through my own Miss Chef. And, beyond their "chefiness," how much I genuinely like them. Granted, Miss Chef's not going to hang around with asshole chefs long enough for me to get to know them, but I've met all her instructors at the school, as well as most of her past and present bosses.

I like the guys--and gals--I've gotten to know because they're dynamic, passionate and fun, with just a dash of "what the fuck" thrown in. We're a long way from Anthony Bourdain (NSFW), but they all seem to be rule-breakers; slight social misfits who don't want to deal with office politics, dressing in creased slacks, or answering to a boss. True chefs, the ones worthy of the title, are also educated--not necessarily formally, but they are interested in learning almost anything. They are curious, fascinated by what they don't know, and often have interesting backgrounds. In short, I really enjoy getting to know them, and love to spend time with them in a social setting.

For the most part, chefs are normal folks--married, loving parents, sometimes shy, sometimes not; short, tall, fat or thin; some wear chef jackets well, some would rather be in jeans and a t-shirt. Some have naturally dynamic personalities; others save that energy for the kitchen, or their close friends and family.

But start talking food, and you can see a transformation come over many of them. Miss Chef's a perfect example. She's normally shy and very quiet, not wanting to get in anyone's way in a crowd or draw attention to herself. But get her started talking about the incredible she-crab soup she made, or the prank she pulled on the pantry cook, and her eyes literally light up, as she becomes suddenly confident and animated. Put an apron on her, hand her a knife, and she can be loud, aggressive and even vulgar, should the occasion warrant it. Her own mother wouldn't recognize her.

However, as a person, she is far from being a "rock star," as she teases her Chef when he's acting particularly cocky. As I thought today about how much I like the chefs I know, I hearkened back to my "outsider" views of them in my single, Food Network watching days. I still thought they were cool, but my perception was very, very different. Chefs were magical, dynamic; like shooting stars that would sprinkle you with glittering stardust if you stood in their presence. They were superhuman, with knowledge of every kind of food and how to use it. Give them the scraps out of the bottom of your vegetable crisper, and they could come up with a four-course gourmet meal to feed eight people. They could make your kids like spinach, and make you like raw whale intestines rolled in organic gravel.

They were gods; rock stars; immortal.

But I've watched Miss Chef get her superhuman knowledge, the hard, slow way. I've heard experienced chefs say "I have no idea how to..." I've listened to stories of learning on the fly with unfamiliar ingredients, failed dishes covered with sauce or frosting, poorly-done entrées sent out with fingers crossed. I've seen them exhausted and bedraggled, with dark circles under their eyes, practically staggering around, after two or three days of long, demanding shifts; easing back into a chair after service and shutting their eyes, wishing the kitchen would clean itself.

These chefs are just humans, trying to keep abreast of the competition, juggle family and work, and figure out a secure end to a physically demanding career. They don't necessarily want to hear how amazing they are--not that they mind!--they want to hear what you loved about their food. They want to hear that you're coming back to eat there again. That you appreciate the new dish they're trying out. And that you'd like to offer them a consulting position when their knees give out at 40.

I mentioned to Miss Chef how my perceptions have changed since I've actually gotten to know some professional chefs, and she knew what I meant. Like Lauren, who introduced herself at the farmers' market. As Miss Chef said, "I was like, 'Ok, I have no idea who you are,' but she was probably thinking 'Wow, I met a chef!'" Yeah, sure; a chef who burned all the salmon for a big wedding last week, and gets all whiny when it's cold in the house. Believe me; she puts those black baggy pants on one leg at a time.

So if you ever get to meet Miss Chef, or one of her colleagues, don't worry about letting them know how much you admire them, or couldn't cook your way out of a box. Chefs aren't about themselves; they're about the food. Try telling them about a cool or unusual restaurant you've eaten in, or a strange dish you've had. They may well start asking you questions. Chefs are really just food-lovers at heart, like you and me. They just happen to be much more obsessive about their food. And have the scars to prove it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Your Opinion Counts

Hello there!

I forgot to put this little guy up as part of my last post, so thought I'd let him introduce today's. I cropped this down from a wider angle, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how well it came out.

Today's post is going to be an easy one for me. I'm just going to ask you to do all the work! It's election day in Flartopia, due to two pertinent facts, as follows:

1) Miss Chef and I finally replaced our old color printer last month. Since last summer, we had been limping along on my ancient, but incredibly reliable, black and white printer from 1997. Most of the time it doesn't matter, but having a digital camera and no way to print photos just sucks. Thanks to Circuit City's going out of business, we got quite a deal!

2) Last weekend I got some really great pictures of Rosie. As you may remember, she's very camera shy, looking away whenever she hears it whirring into action. It's even harder to get a shot of her ears perked up. Add to that the general difficulty in photographing black dogs, and the typical eyeglow from a flash, and there are many factors working against me.

But as I finished my latest round of spring pictures, and headed to the front stoop, Rosie stood there distracted by the neighbors across the street. As my mind started to say, "I wish I had a camera," I suddenly realized that a miracle had occured, and I actually DID!

So I managed to get off four shots before the neighbors went inside and Rosie gave me that "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" look. When I loaded them onto the computer, I couldn't decide which one I liked the best.

That's where you all come in--I want to print out one picture for the doggy frame on my desk at work, and I want you to vote on which one I should use! I'm very interested in what you'll like best, since you've never seen her in person. My main focus is in trying to capture what I know of her personality; I wonder which one captures her best for you?

Do me a favor and only vote for one--though you can change your mind if you want. I know which one I like least; please don't pick that one. (j/k) Oh, and don't think I am an amazing technical photographer--most of these were cropped, and every one was run through a photo editor to fix some lighting issues. You can click on them to biggerize them, if you feel the need.

Alrighty, and the candidates are (drumroll):





Let me know in the comments what you think. And thanks for playing along!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Catching Up Is Hard to Do

Phew! What the heck's been going on? I honestly don't know; nothing major, just lots of little fun stuff. Last weekend is a fuzzy memory, if only because we've been sitting under a wet, hazy front this week that has delivered some lazy-making weather.

However, I do remember sitting around last Sunday thinking, "Wow, this is great weather to be outside!" Except I was inside. I finally gave myself permission to be lazy, and enjoy the breezes coming in through the windows, without being chore-driven. That's a good way to take advantage of nice weather, too!

Sunday was also the day Miss Chef started her stock, as I chronicled in my last post, so I guess I'll start by showing you the final results:

Dark, rich-looking stuff, isn't it? Right around two gallons! That's from two batches, remember; she poured off one batch and added water back in to the bones and whatnot. The very best part of this last batch of stock is that I didn't have to clean any of it up! Yesss!! Miss Chef very responsibly took care of it on Monday while I was at work.

She also used a little bit that evening to make dinner--we had bought a frozen duck on sale, and she roasted it whole. And then she did something that separates her from mere home cooks like me: she used a failed batch of blackberry jam from last summer, which didn't gel, and reduced it with some of the beef stock to make a truly mind-blowing sauce for the duck.

One of the things I love about blogging is that it gives me a venue to share these wonderful experiences! Feel free to tell me how jealous you all are! :)

Ok, well, come Tuesday, the weather was about to change, and the lawn was getting excited about growing even higher and thicker with the oncoming rain. So I knuckled down and mowed it all after work. Before I did that, though, I wandered around the yard to see how our garden(s) grow(s), so I could share it here.

I'm gonna start with a cheat--I already had this picture, but wanted to tell you a little story. I don't know if these are wild or naturalized or what, but these little grape hyacinths are everywhere.

I think they're charming, in an English-cottage-garden sort of way. They just sort of pop up in bunches in our flower beds and even in the lawn. Miss Chef hates them. She finds the long, thin, chive-like foliage very messy and sprawling. I agree with her, but feel that the blooms are worth it. She, however, is dedicated to yanking them out whenever she weeds.

I got very fussy about it our first spring here, but then realized that the hyacinths are much more persistent in the garden than Miss Chef ever will be. So I let her rant and yank, and just enjoy them while they're here, knowing they will mysteriously multiply when she's not looking. Heh heh heh.

I decided that day to take the opportunity to yank Miss Chef's chain a little, by creating this charming little bouquet:

She did admit that it was very pretty, since the limp foliage was absent. See, compromise is a wonderful thing! I can't believe how well the camera captured the deep blue of these flowers; this must be my favorite color.

So, let's see what else has been growing out there. My peas are coming up enthusiastically:

They are even more and bigger since I took this picture. I now have over 20 little ones coming up. I'm a little concerned about training them to the trellis, but it should be a fun learning experience.

So far, no rabbit invasions (knock wood!), though today Rosie and I spotted a pair over by the pond in the common area. I kind of wished I didn't have to hold her back. I mean, I don't want her to think she's not allowed to chase them out of our yard! Don't worry, animal lovers, she's not fast enough to catch them, in spite of her fascination with them.

Miss Chef finally planted the herb bed she's been working on for the better part of a year.

She had to do battle with some fire ants that had moved in over the winter, but she was tired of looking at this half-done pile. Looks much better now! Let's see, starting clockwise at noon, we have sage (transplanted from last year's garden), cilantro, marjoram, flat-leaf parsley in the middle, oregano in front, then more marjoram, curly parsley, and a small lavender plant hiding between that and the sage. There's more cilantro and oregano in the back, and there's thyme in there somewhere. Maybe it's the dark stuff I thought was oregano. Huh. I obviously have a few things to learn here.

Now, we have no idea how some of this stuff will do, but surely some of it will prosper. I've already mentioned our great success with basil last year; we planted it with the tomatoes, as Miss Chef read somewhere that they support each other, I think by chasing away each others' pests. Or something. I dunno, but it worked well for us. We also have some chives in a planter, which come back every year to our continuing surprise. And the rosemary bush has had a tough winter, but is still joining the springtime bloom!

My cheap little camera doesn't do up-close focus very well, but those are very pale lavender blooms there, not bits of toilet paper stuck in a bush. Honest.

Well, Wednesday the rains began, and Miss Chef and I spent part of the evening at the library. We were both getting hungry while we were out, and Miss Chef kind of wanted to just eat out quickly somewhere. I got a little Mom-ish on her, and we finally agreed to go home to cook our own meal. After all, she had already thawed out a package of that great grass-fed beef we got at the farmers' market. We would betray our principals to go spend money on industrially-raised meat! Not that we don't do that often enough...but, one step at a time, right?

Anyway, when we got home, she said something along the lines of "I cooked last night, so you're gonna cook tonight, right?" I objected at first, but it's true that I am fully capable in the kitchen, and could certainly use the practice! It was easy, since Miss Chef had already decided the menu--burgers, roasted potatoes and "some kind of vegetable you can nuke."

So I leave you with Flartus' own version of dinner. It's much less glamorous than a Miss Chef creation, but as she says, she's the last one to complain when somebody else is doing the cooking for her!

(That dimple in the middle of the burger is how Miss Chef told me how well-done it was--she can tell the "temp" of any kind of meat by pressing it with her finger. How cool is that?)

Bonus shot: Ooo, I just stepped into the backyard in the rain and the dark, and the jasmine smells AMAZING! So here's a picture of it in brighter, drier times.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, where I will ask you to vote on something near and dear to my heart!

Hello, A Bientôt

This isn't a real post. It's just to let you know I'm still here, that this blog is still alive, and that I will be back very soon. But Miss Chef has been home these last several nights, so--no insult intended--I've had more important things to do.

In the meantime, things keep growing. Imagine that!

Go, beans, go! I have lots more pictures to share, when I get a moment to upload them.

See you soon!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Liquid Gold (part 2)

It's stock time again in the Flartus household! Unfortunately, we ran out of chicken stock before we collected enough bones for the next round. We almost had to buy stock--horrors! But, unbeknownst to me, Miss Chef was keeping tabs on the situation. Solution: buy bones, instead of stock.

Problem: the local Harris Teeter doesn't have chicken bones (shame on you, H-T!) Solution: contact one of the local farmers who sell chicken at the markets.

Problem: chicken bones were priced at $2.20 a pound! I accept that organic, free-range chicken is going to cost more, but these bones are more expensive than most meat cuts! Solution: skip the chicken bones, and buy the cheaper beef bones sold by Baucom's Best. (yup, free plug for our favorite this week, lol.)

This is the background behind my "Ode to My Love" from last week. Miss Chef was out of town, so I had to drag my lonely self to pick up the 10 lbs of bones she'd ordered. I'm glad they were wrapped up in an opaque bag, or I might have had second thoughts about the whole project.

Miss Chef is taking a few extra steps with this batch of stock. First, she roasted the bones for an hour or two, to give a richer, deeper flavor to the finished product. This also allowed me to decide that I really do not like the smell of beef tallow. Ick. I was very happy we were doing this on a lovely spring day that allowed us to open the windows. Anyway, here they are after roasting.

Already looking better, aren't they? No, they didn't shrink; she had transferred them into the tall stockpot by now, and was getting ready to deglaze the--admittedly gross-looking--fond.

(Layman's definitions: deglazing means getting the gunk off the bottom by adding a little liquid and heating it back up. Like Mom used to make gravy. Fond is the tasty brown stuff left behind when you cook meats; deglazing it up into a sauce adds lots of yumminess. Yumminess is the reason to eat something. Everyone caught up? Ok.)

She added some onions, carrots and celery...like my lovely action / atmospheric shot? The yellow blur in the back is the spatula passing by.

Also a few smashed cloves of garlic...(notice the burns on Miss Chef's hand; sign of a professional cook!)

...a little tomato paste for another layer of flavor, and then filled it up with water and set it to simmer.

That was before. Below is after about 8 hours. It keeps going from nasty to yummy, back to nasty-looking again.

In a little bit, we will strain out all that nasty-looking stuff, cool the stock, and eventually freeze it. Then Miss Chef wants to add more water to the...nasty-looking stuff, and re-simmer it. She says that makes a second, lighter batch of stock that you can use for less-intense flavor.

Getting complicated, huh? I know; that's why I let her do the fancy cooking. Me, I'll take care of the casseroles and other pasta-based yumminess that I can cook all in one pot!

Oh, and Miss Chef is such the consummate cook, she really wants to feed everyone. She even saved a roasted bone for the dog!

There's a whole lot of marrow in there, and it's apparently delicious. (Notice the ball lying forgotten by her tail. This is a much better class of toy!) She's still outside in the growing dark, gnawing away at the marrow. Looked me right in the eye when I said the magic word "din-din," got up and walked away. I feel like my kid just ran out the door without kissing me goodbye.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see how this stock is used around here. I'm not a big beef eater, so I'll have to watch and learn. I don't think I'll ever get bored, with Miss Chef around!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Big weekend coming up--we're having an out-of-town guest. It's going to be the minimal-est kind of visit you can imagine, though; my friend from graduate school is participating in a small bike race nearby, and needs a place to crash the night before. As she is leaving a husband and one-year old behind, she'll be getting here Saturday night, and leaving early Sunday for the race.

So, really, no pressure to wash the windows or steam-clean the drapes. But there is something about having overnight guests that activates our Clean Genes.

Miss Chef and I are not the best housekeepers, but we're not complete slobs, either. We both came from families with a parent bordering on obsessive-compulsive, so when we clean, we do it right. It's just that it's stressful to hold yourself to such a standard, so we end up putting off lots of household chores.

It wouldn't be quite so bad, but we have a dog with long, black hair, and we do enjoy gardening. Our light-colored carpet could use a lot more frequent vacuuming than it gets. In the kitchen, we're often surprised by large dark hairballs drifting across the yellow linoleum. The living room couch, which is strictly off-limits to the dog, mysteriously grows a fine network of black fuzz.

(Don't let me blame it all on Rosie, though; Miss Chef and I clomp in from the garden with plenty of Carolina clay and other goodies stuck to our shoes. Though, as Miss Chef has bigger feet than I, she clearly is responsible for more dirt than I am. Right?)

So, when my parents, for example, arrange to come stay for a week, we feel the need to spring into action. Not only do the everyday chores need attention, but lots of infrequent cleaning jobs seem appropriate. I have to give Miss Chef an enormous amount of credit here; she usually spends a morning/afternoon doing major cleaning and small repairs before heading to work.

As the two of us strategize over our list of chores neglected, I always wonder: are we gross, or lazy, in that we have to wait until someone threatens to eat in our kitchen and bathe in our shower before we'll get it together to mop the floors? Do other people put up with doggy tumblehairs and gritty bathroom floors for weeks on end? I feel like I stop noticing the dirt, until I try to look at it as a visitor would, and then I think "How can we live this way?"

On the other hand, I also wonder, "Am I being ridiculous? Would anyone else freak out over a hairball?"

I suppose the answer lies in who "anyone else" is. For parties, we do mop the floors and super-clean the kitchen, but our master bathroom is often still cruddy, and we end up with clothes-drying racks in the bedroom. If we're having a close friend for dinner, I might just make sure they won't get furry from the couch or nauseated from the bathroom.

On the other hand...there's Mom.

Now, my mother is the kindest of souls, and she loves her children dearly. However, she was also the clean freak in our family. She stayed at home while we were growing up, and she took her job seriously! She had a schedule of vacuuming, dusting, watering plants, washing windows, etc. She did once acknowledge to me that "most people don't have standards like mine." Meaning, most people know when to stop. Most people don't re-wash the pots and pans because "I felt something on it."

Naturally, the first time Mom and Dad came to visit the new house, I was a mess. Everything had to be perfect! Drapes vaccuumed, baseboards dusted, kitchen drainer bleached, dog shaved (well, no, but only because Rosie hadn't joined us yet). I even worried about the way things smelled (you may remember my Supernose post from a few months back). It is to Miss Chef's credit that she helped with all of the above, without complaint. Or maybe the carpet cleaner was too loud for me to hear her.

Anyway, when my parents arrived, they were very complimentary about the house in general, impressed that a small house could feel so large, etc. And several hours later, when everyone was pretty much settled in, my mom stood at the entrance to the living room and said "Everything's so clean!

Angels sang, the clouds parted, and a golden ray of heavenly light illuminated us both. My mother could not have given me a better compliment. It was like having Einstein say "Wow, that was really clever of you!" or Aretha Franklin admiring your rendition of Respect. I wonder if she had any idea of the strength of her comment? Probably not; parents often don't realize their power over their children. At least, mine don't. I should probably mention it to her, but it's a memory I hold dear, and I don't want it to lose any of its power through analysis.

So I guess I can calm down a little when it comes to cleaning for visitors. Except...the last time this particular friend visited, I was embarrassed when her husband commented on a cookbook on display in a niche about six inches above the floor. Not only was the book dusty, but the floor of the niche was rich with dog hair. In the kitchen! Aargh!

Friends are forgiving, but I'm not. So I've already dragged out the carpet cleaner, and Miss Chef has already bleached the kitchen drainer. But you know, it's really not for our visitor. I have to admit, it's also for us. She's just the catalyst. Because after she's gone, Miss Chef and I will revel in the bliss of a clean, neat home.

For a few days, anyway.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring, cont.

Hmm, hrmm...eh...looks like there's something about spring that's keeping me busy. Daylight savings time is messing with my energy, too. But I snuck a few minutes yesterday to take some photos of the newest stars of the show.

Lovely Hyacinth has stopped by, thanks to Miss Chef's fall planning. She says she made this cutting bed for me, though I had to finish it off to make it as perfect and organized as I like things to be. The planting, however, is all to her credit. I teased her about planting hyacinths when she is on a campaign to yank up all the lovely little wild ones that populate our yard. However, I will admit that these are a completely different experience. Plus, their perfume will knock you over from ten paces, if you crouch down low to the ground (as I do every evening while looking for new sprouts in the garden...more on that in a bit).

Ah, tulips...we've heard they can be tricky; failing to come up the second year. But this is the first year, and here they come. I planted a few out front, to follow the daffodils; they are coming in a bit slower.

Now, back to the sprouting things in the garden. Lovely, eh? This was as close as I could get to my teeny arugula sprouts. The only reason I know they are arugula, and not carrots or dandelions, is because A) I planted them there, and B) they're growing in straight rows. Otherwise, they look like a million other plants at this point.

After a cold, rainy weekend, which halted the arugula in their double-leafed tracks and made me fear for our little unsprouted seeds, we're finally starting to see more shoots outside. Spinach, beets and peas are popping their little fronds up, though the carrots seem shy. Not at all sure what the asparagus is supposed to do this year; it takes 3 years before they are harvestable, so that's going to be sort of a long-term experiment.

This is a bit of what Miss Chef's been cooking up inside. I believe these are October beans she saved from the farmers' market last year. I took this picture about two days ago, and the plants are already over 6" high. They're sitting outside now, getting rained on, or I'd take a picture for comparison. We don't know if they're pole beans or bush beans, but they're looking a lot like viners so far!

And I'm sorry, but that's all that Flartus has time for today. I've noticed the comments have dropped off, so either my tales of tunafish are not very inspiring, or you all have your own spring happenings going on. I'll assume the latter, for my ego's sake.

Happy growing, y'all!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Story Behind the Casserole

Careful readers will have figured out that Miss Chef was out of town this weekend, visiting family. We have these short separations a few times each year, as both our families live at least two states away, and Miss Chef only gets one week of paid time off. While we do miss each other, there are a few, short-term advantages to having the house alone.

I'm sure Miss Chef enjoys her free days with no "suggestions" from me of projects to accomplish or "reminders" of chores to get done in a timely manner. We probably both enjoy, for one or two nights, the selfishness of the bed to ourselves--no worrying about snoring, being able to turn the lights and radio on in the morning or evening while the other one slumbers elsewhere, using all four pillows if we so chose.

On the other hand, I must concentrate and plan ahead to be sure to eat decently while on my own--no depending on Miss Chef's getting a craving or sudden inspiration at the farmers' market. If she's gone for more than a day or two, sandwiches will soon pall in their attraction. No, I must get into that kitchen and cook. (To be honest, I'm not a bad cook; I just get lazy when Miss Chef's around, and some of my skills can atrophy.)

Fortunately, I have a ready answer to my dietary dilemma: tunafish casserole. Oh yes, there's a story.

Firstly, I must explain that one of the pillars of our perfect love match is the fact that neither of us likes seafood. Oh, sure, we'll enjoy some good shrimp from time to time, and we can both manage to eat a few bites of lighter fish, if well-prepared and generously sauced. But neither of us will be ordering the seafood special off of any menu.

And yet, for reasons I can't fully comprehend, I have always enjoyed tunafish casserole. Not just tolerated it, but enjoyed it. To the point that it's actually one of my comfort foods. I don't know what it is, but anything with gooey oozy noodles has to have some attraction for me. I've tried to adapt the tried-and-true recipe Mom taught me--making my own roux-based sauce, adding different seasonings and toppings--but I've decided it's best as it always was. It needs that can of mushroom soup, dammit. (And I don't like mushrooms, either...it's just so inexplicable.)

Miss Chef, naturally, does not share this same affection. In fact, she absolutely detests canned tuna. Of course, she can handle preparing and serving a tuna steak at work if she has to, but she doesn't want a single can of tuna in the house. When we shared a house with our dear friend the Crazy Puerto Rican* (or CPR), Miss Chef would practically have fits when the CPR dared to prepare herself a tuna salad. "Oh my God, that smells disgusting! How can you eat that??" And so on.

Obviously, I quickly learned that tunafish casserole would not be a staple in our home. And yet, sometimes, I just need that mixture of lusciousness and salt, of noodles and cheese and that underhanded spike of mustiness that only tuna can offer.

So I wait. I forget about it. I enjoy Miss Chef's amazing meals and concoctions, and revel in my cleverness in marrying a Chef. Until she goes out of town.

She left Friday while I was at work. On Saturday morning I stopped at the Teeter to pick them up: two cans of tuna. A can of mushroom soup (ok, I went for the fancy "mushroom with roasted garlic"). A pound of egg noodles--no, wait, these cool things are on sale. "Radiatore." Cool, little radiators! They'll hold in all that saucy goodness even better!

Then I went home and boiled noodles, mixed up the tuna & soup with some milk and frozen peas, added some tarragon and the last bit of shredded parmesan, just to see, then dumped in the cooked noodles, gave it all a stir, and popped it into the oven with a topping of grated cheddar.

And there it was: a one-sentence recipe! No, wait, I meant, my childhood love, come back again. Sort of. I should have added salt. I always forget to add salt, and Miss Chef generally gets to smirk and say "I knew you would." Not that it matters in this recipe, as far as she's concerned!

Once the casserole is done, my assignment is clear: get rid of the evidence. I rinse the tuna cans and toss them into the recycling; that will be out of the house before Miss Chef gets back, or I'd have to scrub all the offensively-scented oil off of them and hide them at the bottom of the bag. I now have two days to finish off the entire casserole myself. Which is not quite as hard as it might seem. I can eat this stuff all day long. And I probably will.

Yes, some people enjoy a once-a-year binge on Girl Scout cookies. Others spend the early days of summer giving themselves tummyaches with the first ripe strawberries. I, however, sit here with a belly full of noodles, mushroom soup and canned tuna.

I'm just glad Miss Chef loves me so. It's nice to be accepted with all one's faults.

*Don't fret about any ethnic insults here; the CPR has fully embraced both her nickname and the insanity that inspired it. She claims it's genetic. Whatever the reason, we love her just the way she is.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Miss Chef Doesn't Go to Market

How do I love thee, Miss Chef? I love thee enough to arise early from my warm bed on a cold, rainy Saturday morn, following hard upon a fortnight of hard work and harder play; a morn which begs for long, late dreams and quiet residence within.

I love thee enough to clad myself in layered garments against the morning's chill and rain, to gather myself together and step out into a dreary gray day. I love thee enough to withdraw my precious dollars in cash and deliver it into the hands of the farmer at the market; to procure for you a heavy sack of beef bones, which I then lug away to the car, and for which I must create sufficient storage space in the freezer unit upon returning home. I love thee enough to do this penance in the name of your stock.

All this while you are away from me, still abed, perchance, in the warm embrace of your kin.

(I admit, the two chocolate croissants I bought myself do help make up for it...a little. As will whatever destiny you conceive of for that stock.

Still...I just want you to appreciate how deep my love abides.)

Oh, and by the way...guess what I'm feeding myself while you're gone??

Love you!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Random Thoughts and Some Spring Pics

I took this picture yesterday afternoon, as I took Rosie on her walk. I love spring! (You can click on it to "biggerize" it, though it gets too big for my screen.)

The following is a collection of stuff from inside my brain...pick and choose, or enjoy them all!


I worked late today--again, but the overtime is sweet!--and so am enjoying one of my favorite sandwiches for dinner. If you don't know what that is, I ain't telling you!! I don't like to have bologna in the house, but I got a craving, so splurged last weekend at the grocery store. They're really great with organic milk....mmmmm.


I feel the need to respond to those of you who complimented us on our motivation and stamina in the garden. Don't be impressed. Just wait until things start heating up, and then I will find lots of excuses to stay inside. Be prepared to read lots of "I was going to mow today, but..." and "I really need to weed..." Fortunately, tomatoes and squash seem to do pretty well all on their own. And we learned last year the importance of fresh mulch ('cause we didn't bother)!

Oh, and we now have teeny little arugula seedlings emerging (no pictures, 'cause it's been too dark when I get home). Miss Chef left me a note that she "planted the rest of the seeds." I'm not sure what that covers, and I'm a little nervous, because she gets pretty darned ambitious come planting time! I suspect there are beans and Swiss chard in some dirt around here somewhere...but I'm not sure. She's got a seed starter tray filled in the living room window, and I don't really know where she plans to put them all. Should be interesting.


Last week, Miss Chef got a speeding ticket on the way home from work. She was steamed, not about the ticket--she was speeding, she got caught, that's life. She's not even steamed about the fine--I think the officer was lenient, because he only gave her a $50 fine. No, she's pissed about the $170 court costs. Not about the costs, themselves, but about the fact that she has to pay them even if she doesn't go to court. She doesn't like things that don't make sense, when there's nobody to address her dissatisfaction to. Can't say I blame her, though after having dealt with both French & Russian bureaucracies, I'm a little less surprised at these kinds of ridiculosities.

Oh, and then two days later, she got a letter from a law firm offering their services. She was also steamed that the county was giving her information to lawyers. "It's public record, honey." I can't tell you how many times I said it that afternoon.

On Monday, she got seven more.

As of today, she's gotten a total of sixteen. Unbelievable. I'm just glad she didn't murder somebody.


Two of my friends' pets have died in the last week. I didn't actually know either pet, but I ache for my friends. In my few decades, I've lost two family dogs and four cats, not to mention my 4H rabbit Dad accidentally killed on butchering day. (That's a tale likely as traumatic for him as for me!) The loss of a pet is indescribable; they reach into us in ways that no human can. I can't help but think of the day down the road when I will have to say goodbye to Rosie, and I wonder how the hell I will survive it. It amazes me that we are willing to step into this pet relationship, knowing how it will inevitably end. And we do it over and over again. Are we stupid, or noble, or addicted?

Charlie, my parents' dog, is 14. He's nearly blind, nearly deaf, and is having nervous system issues that cause him to fall easily. But he is still playful and wants to interact as much as he can. My parents are both adamant about not getting another dog when Charlie is gone, but I wonder how they will deal with it. I'm as worried about them as I am about good ol' Charlie. I mean, who will they talk to? Each other??


Well, that got depressing, but it's the last thing I was going to talk about. So I'll leave you with another image of that spring tree. I've decided this is my favorite tree in the whole neighborhood. It reminds me of the apple tree that grew in front of our barn when I was growing up; I swear the perfume filled an acre of field. Last spring, I stopped under this tree to investigate the odd humming coming from it. Every bee in the city must have been in that tree, and boy, were they happy!

Oh yeah, a little update: Mason was scheduled to go to his forever home today! It's rare that something I do directly results in a pet's adoption, but I remember very clearly the woman who ended up adopting him. I got a good, responsible vibe off of her, so I am very happy to have been able to help them both out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just Breezing Through...

I've been desperately trying to post something here, but life has had other plans. I'm fine with that, but I hate to get out of a good habit. So, while I still don't have much time, I'll try to summarize here.

I had a dream in my head Saturday evening of spending Sunday sitting in the shade reading a book, with Miss Chef and Rosie nearby. I knew, however, that Miss Chef had ambitious plans of one sort or another: the weather was supposed to remain fantastic, and she had the gardening bug.

We didn't get started until 11:00, thanks to daylight stupid time starting so stupidly early this year. But by the end of the day, we had transplanted a small tree; planted the pea trellis Miss Chef made for me; finished her second cutting bed; moved three wheelbarrows of dirt (but saving lots of worms!); planted peas, carrots, beets, arugula, spinach, brussels sprouts and potatoes (and worms!); and made two trips to Home Depot. And the dog had, um...soaked up a lot of shade. She was a very good girl, coming everytime we lost sight of her around a corner and whistled for her. Poor thing hardly got a rest.

Monday, I headed creakily off to work. Actually, I didn't feel nearly as sore as I had expected; I think Sunday's workout helped to ease my soreness from Saturday. Miss Chef had the day off, and she started tomatoes and some other seeds inside. Her big project, though, was dinner: she'd gotten a hankering for a meatball sandwich, and why buy it from someone else, when she could make it better?

So, remember that grass-fed beef and local pork sausage we bought last week at the farmers' market? Yeah, they went in...as well as bread crumbs, milk, fresh parsley, oregano and basil, onions, garlic and grated parmesan. She simmered them in store-bought pasta sauce (it was on sale), and by the time I walked in the front door, the house smelled amazing.

We ate on the back patio, enjoying the cooling air and the absence of (most) bugs. I watched the birds come to the feeders as the sun sank, and we even had a bluebird land in our yard. It was lovely.

Oh, but it got even better. I was preparing to do the dishes--yeah, she cooked, so I had to pull my load--when Miss Chef walked up to me and said, "I'm gonna mow the front lawn." Now, it wouldn't be fair to say she never mows, but...well, you get the point.

So today, by comparison, was pretty dull. We both went to work in the morning, and both came home late, after seven. Rosie was delirious and starving. But we all settled down to dinner together and enjoyed each other's company.

As I type this, Miss Chef is crashed on the couch with a Dagoba milk chocolate bar, watching an Alton Brown DVD, and talking back to the tv. (He's doing a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" quiz about Waldorf salad, and she's purposely guessing the wrong ingredients--like popcorn, and potpourri.) So I hope you will excuse me if I cut this short in order to join her.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Finally! Volunteering

So here it is March, and I finally put in some volunteer hours. I'm beginning to think that rather than once a month, I should be shooting for once a quarter. Gotta start somewhere.

For new-ish readers, one of my New Year's resolutions was to get back into volunteering on a semi-regular basis. As with most resolutions, this one hasn't been going so well. But I'm still trying!

To give you some background, I've been a volunteer with the Humane Society of Charlotte (HSC) for 2 or 3 years. I knew that soon after I bought a house, I would want a dog, and as a sort of payback for all the Humane Society would be doing for my future pet, I wanted to put in some hours. Plus, it would give me a chance to look over the prospects! For about 6 months, I was there almost every Saturday, taking a dog to a city park for exercise and socialization.

Once I adopted Rosie, I wanted to add an activity to serve my fellow human beings. Thanks to Rosie's amazing temperament, pet therapy was a natural fit. Through my vet, I hooked up with a greyhound rescue group which was very welcoming to a short, broad, long-haired dog completely unlike a greyhound. We got certified through a HSC staff member, and for about a year, we went once a month to one of two rehab/nursing homes.

And then, like most people, I got distracted. First, I had to balance out my HSC and therapy weekends. One week I had a cold--didn't want to visit the elderly with weak immune systems. Later, I got a "new" car--not so comfortable loading a shelter dog into it. My parents visited, the farmers' market beckoned, it was too hot/cold/muddy...you see how it goes. I am trying to fight all this and find a way to get in my volunteer hours without sacrificing my rest/Miss Chef time.

I'm beginning to learn that the best way for me to do this is to sign up for a specific event. So a couple of weeks ago, I said "Sure, I'll take a dog to the Spring Home & Garden show!" The HSC is sharing a booth with the Invisible Fence company. Only those who have gone through the HSC's special Walk to Adopt training are allowed to take dogs off the property, so I figured they could use all the volunteers they could get.

Thursday, I got the email with the details about who, when, where. I downloaded the map of the site and thought "Uh oh, what have I gotten myself into??" The show is huge! Three separate buildings with thousands of booths for vendors. I had been to another venue on the same site, and remembered the entrance off of highway-like Independence Boulevard was a little confusing. Great, now I get to do it with a strange dog bouncing around in the back seat. Second thoughts? Definitely, but it was too late to back out now!

So, Saturday morning I filled two bottles of water, put a sheet over my back seat and donned my neon-green volunteer shirt. (I really don't like this new color they picked, but at least they get noticed!) I drove up to the HSC and met Mason, a two-year old standard pinscher.

It was pretty obvious Mason had been taught to walk on a leash, which is unusual for shelter dogs. He was pretty quiet and sweet, but showed absolutely no interest in jumping into the car. Once I lifted him in, he stepped up onto the console between the front seats. "Oh no you don't; you're not riding up there!" I'm used to much bigger dogs--Mason's about 20 lbs, I'd guess--and quickly found the arm-across-the-gap move I usually use on HSC dogs was no good. He'd just duck underneath!

I did get him lifted back into the back seat, but it turned out he was very unsteady in the car. Most dogs will sit or even lie down when they start tumbling around from braking, accelerating and turning, but he didn't figure it out. He was not having a good time back there, and I was too busy trying to find my way to do much to help him.

By the time finally Mason decided he'd best be up front with me, I was in the process of getting lost on Independence Boulevard. I did get off, but then took a wrong turn, and ended up on Independence again, headed the wrong way. I was beginning to get very frustrated. Mason, sensing my need for comfort, decided he should crawl into my lap. "Yes, dear, you are truly a sweetheart, but not now!

I eventually found the right parking area...$6, please. I only had $8 cash on me. I wondered what kind of lunch I could get for $2. Oh well.

I parked a quarter-mile from the building(s), grabbed my water bottles, directions and, of course, Mason's leash, and started to hike. Please note: it was hard enough wrangling a dog and two water bottles, so there will be no pictures of the actual event; a camera was beyond my skills!

I found the entrance fairly easily, but once inside, was completely lost and overwhelmed. People streamed by in every direction, past a disorienting assault of sight and sound. I have a pretty good sense of direction, but had no idea where I had come in, or which building was which. Poor Mason followed me gamely; that's one of the things I love about dogs, they're so trusting. Fortunately, as I turned in a circle, I realized that I was standing smack dab in front of an information booth. I told you I was disoriented!

After the nice information lady pointed me in the right direction, I quickly found my way, and soon spotted several other neon-green shirts. There were two other shelter dogs there, and we had a fairly small space to share. The Invisible Fence people were very friendly and of course wanted to know all about the dogs--they ended up doing almost as much PR as we did!

Poor Mason was quite overwhelmed at the noise and number of people. He's not more than two feet tall, and having all these giants surround him and start petting him made him a little shy. But the HSC staff carefully select the dogs for these events, so he patiently put up with his groupies. He turned out to be quite popular; people asked the other handlers about my dog, but nobody asked me about the other two! We all answered lots of questions about Mason and adoption in general; in two hours we handed out all our brochures. One woman came back two or three times to see him; she just couldn't get enough!

Toward the end of our three-hour shift, Mason was getting tired. I took him outside a couple of times, but it took forever, since people kept stopping us to ask about him and the HSC. He was a game little doggie, though. Surrounded by a group of kids about 10 years old, he held his own. At 3:00 he was ready to go, though, and I was too. I was starting to lose my voice by shouting to be heard over the ambient noise. "He's a German Pinscher. His name's Mason. He's about two years old, so this is about as big as he's going to get." I should've written it on my neon-green shirt.

Finally, it was time to head back "home." As I grabbed my two water bottles, along with the can of Coke another volunteer had kindly gotten for me, and the leash, I was never happier to have a small, trained dog on that leash!

You'll be happy to know that the drive back to the shelter went much better than the drive there. At least for me. Mason still didn't have his sea legs, and although he started out in the back seat...
(No, I did not take this while driving!) He actually kept trying to climb onto me, and we finally compromised with my right arm wrapped around him kind of backwards, trying to steady him as we turned and braked. They didn't include any of these skills in the volunteer training! He really is a sweet, affectionate little guy, and I have to admit to a brief flicker of a thought through my brain: "Wonder if he'd get along with Rosie?" It is so hard to bring these dogs back to the shelter after spending an afternoon getting to know them!

However, when I brought him back into the kennel area, it was obvious he's a favorite of the staff. Everyone who saw him called him by name. On my way out, I stopped by the front counter to see if anyone had come by from the show. Yes, the first woman who had seemed really interested in him had already put in an application for adoption. I told the adoption coordinator "There are going to be two or three other people who will be disappointed to hear that!" But just getting them into the shelter will guarantee they'll take a turn around the kennel, and you all know what happens from there, right?

On the way back out to the car, I saw something that made me run back inside and say "How do I get one??"

It's a car window decal with the HSC logo on it...and that horrid neon green. But I don't care, I still want one! Turns out it was just a test run--this was a staff member's car. But she told me to email the volunteer coordinator and let her know I'd buy one, so they should sell them.

Hey, if you read this whole post, I thank you. And now, I challenge you to go out and spend an afternoon supporting a cause close to your heart, and share it with us.

Epilogue: I finally got home about 4:00, and had lunch. After which, naturally, I had to take my own dog for a walk. That's the other tough part about volunteering--two walks in one day! I did point out to Rosie that this was proof of how much I love her, taking my sore feet and legs out again. Don't know if she got the message...but with those big brown eyes, who cares!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

God at the Post Office

I've not been absent; just incredibly busy working lots of overtime. On the way home, I was all set to write something tonight, but then a resident stopped by with a long-winded complaint to bring before our HOA board. Interrupted my dinner and everything. It was almost 9 o'clock when he finally left.

Anyway, I thought that wiped out any opportunity for me to get up a new post tonight, but then I checked my email and found this, which I just had to share with all you animal lovers. (especially you, Fred!)

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her, you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith, and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope, because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office.

A few days later she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed "To Meredith," in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, When a Pet Dies. Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog.

Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day, and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I'm easy to find, I am wherever there is love.

(I'm sure I won't be the only one to have tears in my eyes at this point.) I don't know who the original author was; feel free to share if you have any more info!

Monday, March 2, 2009

More Snowy Pictures

Well, I did have to go in to work today, but the office opened two hours late, so I still had time to take Rosie out and get some more pictures. I've got to figure out how to upload video from my camera; she was completely nuts in the snow...well, at least for her!

This morning, our snowman had collected even more snow. You may notice his mouth disappeared; his head fell off after we went inside and I had to re-do it. I suspect foul play, but since he didn't seem to mind, we won't pursue it.

The daffodils were a little less happy with the snow...

"Gee Hon, how much snow did we get?"

"Uh...well...er...a bunch!"

Every branch covered with snow. Actually, a lot of it had plopped off by the time I took these pictures.

Then the sun came out and turned icy branches into lacy diamonds...only the camera didn't do a great job of capturing the sparkle. My pea-trellis-in-progress was totally transformed into modern art.

The sun came out again in the afternoon, so, as usual, most of the snow melted. But there's still a nice layer on the east-facing rooftops and north-facing hills. I haven't heard the scrunch of snow under my boots in 8 years, so I actually got pretty excited about this snowfall. Pretty weird for someone who grew up in the snow belt! It's true; snow is better in the south. 'Cause it goes away so quickly!