Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Meatless Monday - Asparagus Fritatta

Who doesn't love to cook in cast iron?  Lots of people.

They tell me:

"It's too heavy."
"The food sticks."
"It gets really hot."

Well, yes, yes and yes.

The heft of the skillet is one of the things I like best --  it's never going to warp and if you drop it, it won't dent.  Your floor, maybe.  Or your toes.  Just use two hands when you haul it around.

Your food could indeed stick if your skillet isn't seasoned properly.  But that's an easy fix -- coat the inside with cooking oil and put the empty pan in a 350 degree oven for an hour.  Over time, if you are good to your cast iron, it will become slick and non-stick (and so much safer than Teflon).

And getting really hot is what makes it so fabulous -- there is a perfect distribution of heat, so your food will cook evenly, even on a flat top stove like ours.  It can go from the stovetop to the oven (as in this recipe) and a good pot holder solves the too hot problem.

You can cook anything in a cast iron skillet -- my mom and dad did, my grandmas did and I'm proud to say I finally got over my snootyness about cast iron skillets (I thought they were too "country."  They are, but then, so am I.  I thought I needed fancy pans.  I didn't.)  I was going to list the things we cook in our skillets (yes, we have them in several sizes) but it's easier to list the things I wouldn't cook in the skillet:


Did you hear the crickets?

Plus, when you cook in cast iron (especially foods which stay in the pan for a while), you get some added iron in your diet.   How cool is that?

Here's what we had for supper this past Monday.  I love to make a fritatta -- which is basically a scrambled egg pie -- because you can throw in whatever is in your fridge.  So even though this one is asparagus and mushrooms, you can use any vegetable, meat, cheese combination you would want.  (We really like kale and feta -- so surpisingly delicious!)

Asparagus Fritatta
2 T. butter
1/2 a small onion, chopped fine (or shallots, leeks -- whatever you have)
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 pound asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces (on the diagonal is pretty)
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
6 eggs (EggBeaters work just fine, too), beaten lightly
1 cup of shredded cheese (with asparagus, I like Swiss, Gruyere or Fontina)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

Over medium high heat, melt butter and saute onion and garlic for a few minutes.  Toss in asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes (tender crisp).  Toss in mushrooms and cook another minute or so.  Stir Swiss cheese into the eggs, and some salt and pepper to taste, then pour that over the vegetables.

Turn on the broiler.  Let the eggs cook, without stirring, until they are set up nicely and the middle isn't runny.  Then, sprinkle the Parmesan over the eggs and (using two hands and a pot holder!) put the skillet under the broiler for the cheese to brown up -- watch it pretty closely here so the cheese doesn't burn.  Remove from the broiler, cut into wedges and serve.

I chopped up some tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and tossed them with a tiny bit of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar and just a sprinkle of sea salt.  Let that marinate for a bit -- this can make those grocery store tomatoes taste close to delicious!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Asian Lettuce Wraps

I am posting this because:

1) these were extra delicious;
2) I'll be able to find the recipe easily next time I go looking for it; and
3) this picture came out very nicely on the first try!

The recipe is here at, one of my favorite cooky places.  Sarah and I made these the evening she came over to sew Tommy's 1st Communion tie (a post on that soon).  We substituted ground turkey for the ground beef, and used 2 cans of water chestnuts, just because we both love them.  And for the Asian chile pepper sauce, we used Siracha -- I think that's what the recipe author intended, and it worked well -- not too hot, but just a little snap.  This made enough for 4 of us.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Special Place in Hell

Of all that Dr. Madeleine Albright has accomplished in her career, I sometimes worry that she just might be remembered best for this line:  

I have one message that I always insist on sharing with women, and that is to . . . remember that there is a special place in Hell reserved for women who refuse to help one another.

You know what she means, right?  It is the responsibility of women, especially those in highly competitive professional fields (like the CIA, where she closed a recent speech with her now famous admonition) to realize that no one gets to the top alone, it is much easier to get there together and stepping over (and sometimes crushing) another woman to make your way up the ladder is just plain wrong.  The snippy/snipey shit women say and do to each other is counterproductive.  (And, I have to wonder if Dr. Albright hasn't been the recipient of some of that behavior she is so adamant to expose and halt -- she says this so often, I have to believe some woman, somewhere really pissed her off.)

So let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, I had meetings and an overnight stay in a lovely hotel in downtown Indianapolis.  I was told that I could either valet park my car for $30, or park in the below-ground deck next door for $22.  Since I am naturally pretty frugal, and since this weekend was on someone else's tab, I chose the deck.

Now, I'm not crazy about parking decks in the first place, but have learned to navigate them -- if you want to hang out in the big city, you know parking decks are a necessary nuisance.

Below-ground decks?  Those are extra vile.

And the below-ground deck under the Pan-Am plaza in Indianapolis at 10:00 PM?

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here:

This is picture of the Pan-Am deck, from the Indianapolis Star.  It's under some sort of renovation -- caution tape, scaffoldings, drippy ceilings everywhere.  Eek.

Down, down, down I drove, into the bowels of the garage, past all the "Reserved" spaces, and finally found a spot right next to an exit.  Lots of cars, but no sign of another human.  I was a little anxious.  I locked my car, hightailed it to the elevator and punched the up button.


Punch, punch, punch.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.

I was getting a little more anxious.

I decided to take the stairs.  I was a little loaded down with my computer bag, purse, tote and some miscellaneous bags, but I didn't think there could be too many flights up.

So, I hightailed it up the first flight only to be met with DARKNESS.  EVERYWHERE.

Double eek.  I was "pee-my-pants" anxious now. I couldn't see where the next flight of stairs began, and I wasn't about to go looking for it.

So I hightailed it back down to my car and was stowing all my stuff back in when I heard voices and high heels clicking on the stairs.  Ahh.  Heavy sigh.  I might have heard angels singing.

I started babbling as soon as the four women were close enough to hear me.

"Oh, I am so glad to see you!  I was getting so scared down here!  Did you come from the hotel?"
"What hotel?" one of them asked, as she walked toward me.
"The Crown Plaza," I replied.
"No, we came from meetings at the Convention Center," another one said as she kept walking.
"Oh, is that where this stairway comes out?"
"I don't know," she said as she kept walking.
"Is the stairway safe?  Is there any light?"
"Well, we just came from there," one of them said, as she looked at me as she passed, still walking.  "The stairway is completely dark."
"What do you think I should do?  I'm all alone," I asked them as they all headed to their car.
"I don't know,"  one said.

And all four women, dressed in nice black suits wearing hose and classy black heels and carrying pink rose-emblazoned brief cases and shopping bags walked another 100 feet down the aisle and got into their white SUV.

Can you guess what company they work for?  It rhymes with Scary Day.

I was completely shocked.  Shocked that four women would leave another woman all by herself in a dark parking deck in a big scary city.  Shocked that they work in an industry that claims to be all about women, for women, by women.

So a yelled at them.

"You can bet I'll never buy Mary Kay again!"

That'll show them.

A friend of mine said I should have added " . . . bitches!" , but I just can't do that.

Because as women, that's just not how we are supposed to treat each other.

The world is a scary place, much like a parking deck.  The best way to maneuver through it is together.  Holding hands if necessary.  And it often is.

I'm pretty sure Madeleine Albright wasn't talking about Mary Kay ladies in a dark parking garage who refused to help me.  She was talking about corporate America, political America, academia America -- the American circles I don't travel in much.  But it still hurt to be refused help by a sister(s).

In my little Queendom this wouldn't happen.  Helping each other is one of the rules -- man, woman or corgi.  And we wouldn't banish women to their personal circles of hell, no matter what, because that is an awful, permanent condemnation and breaks the kindness rule.

Believe me.  In that parking deck, abandoned by fellow women, I felt like I had been condemned to my own circle of hell.

I knew that day that I didn't belong there -- helping has sort of become my middle name.

But if I've ever failed to help another woman out, any time, anywhere, I think I've served my sentence in the Pan Am Plaza deck.  May I never fail another woman again.


PS  Happy ending.  I got in my car, headed for the exit, sniffled a little to the gentleman in the pay booth who told me to park near his booth in one of the close reserved spaces, since it was the weekend.  I'll be valet parking (on my own dime) when I go back this summer!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Favorite Things Friday -- Matryoshkas

On one of his first trips to Russia, Clay brought back sets of matryoshkas for everyone, and they quickly became one of my favorite travel souvenirs (and he brings home fantastic things!)

I just love these little nesting doll sets.  In the great long history of Russia, they're really pretty recent -- just dated back to the 1890's.  The legend is that a Russian missionary monk brought home the idea from Japan, where they were called Fukurokuju, and featured the Japanese god of happiness as the outermost doll, and other happy little figures inside.  (The Japanese dolls had their origin in China, where intricate boxes that nested within each other have been popular for centuries.)  Russians started carving and painting them to resemble country women (which is why they are sometimes called babushkas, the Russian word for grandmother, old woman or headscarf), with each doll in the set identical to the others, but soon they took on religious, historical and political themes, as well.   

This is a traditional set, where the faces and costume remain the same, but there is a Russian tale or legend being told on their torsos -- I'm still researching to find out the story.  Any Russian scholars want to help me out?

This religious set starts with Mary and baby Jesus, then Jesus as a man, two other saints (probably Russian favorites like Nicholas, Peter or Basil) and then Jesus as a boy (I think.)

As a musician, I love these dolls -- I'm not sure Clay realized they were musicians when he bought them, but it seemed like such a thoughtful gift.  The biggest doll is playing a balalaika -- a triangle-shaped guitar.  The second  is playing an accordion -- in Russia, these are called bayan, if they have buttons -- there don't appear to be any buttons on this one, so you might just call is a squeezebox. The third has a zither, and the little two cuties are singers.  I think.

So now, people who know how much I love these little babushkas gift me with lovelies like these:  

Cute measuring cups

Stationary set

Cupcake papers from my friend, Cathy
(I'll definitely be taking Babushka cupcakes to our next Council meeting!)

And more adorable measuring cups.  
These are ceramic and a gift from my friend and pinterest pal, Lauren -- how cute are these?  

I have made one matryoshka quilt and have fabric for two more:
 Kokka Japanese fabric which I purchased from fabricworm

I once gave a children's  message at the Methodist church using my matryoshkas -- I wish I could remember what I said, as I'm sure it was very deep with many layers of meaning.  (What a comedian!)
Maybe I need to work on a matryoshka-focused story . . .


Thursday, April 11, 2013

April Book Report

I am doing this early, because I think everyone needs to read this book and read it soon -- Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.  Clay does, too.  We both loved it, cried over it and think it's one of the best we've read in a long time.  I'm not going to say much more, but if you don't fall in love with these characters, I don't want to be your friend any more.

Just kidding.
I'll still be your friend, but I'll never understand you.


And PS.  I forgot to report on Light Between Oceans, which I listened to while doing some sewing last month.  Unlike the book above, the Coons' were split on this one -- I thought it was very good, although heart-wrenching, and Clay was ticked that I suggested such a dark book with an ending he didn't appreciate.  We both loved the reader's Australian accent, but in some of the reviews on Audible listeners hated it.  So, you might want to read it with an Australian accent in your head that you can understand.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Artsy Craftsy Easter

 Since Tommy and Nate are on a balanced school schedule, they had two weeks off before Easter (well, almost two weeks off -- because of snow days, they had to go back on Thursday and Good Friday of that week -- Sarah said many kids were "sick" those days!)  they came to our house one day and we had a crafty day.

We rolled green "silverware" in orange napkins and tied them with green pipecleaners to look like carrots:

We dyed coffee filters in colored water to make basket place settings:

Nate and Maggie cut out tons of little rabbits and glued cotton balls on their bottoms for bunny garlands:
Handsome boys:

 I had to go work at the pantry, but while I was gone, Maggie cut out tons of tissue paper squares, which the boys them pressed onto clear contact paper.  Then, we covered that with another sheet of contact paper and cut out crosses and eggs, which looked so pretty in the window in the dining room (but hard to take a picture of without glare -- this one of Tommy was edited a lot!)

 Here they are in the window:

It was a fun day, and made our Easter brighter.