Friday, December 30, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I'm a big fan of John Irving, even though his works can be rightfully judged for the repetitive themes creeping up in practically all of them, i.e. circus bears, anything Viennese, unconventional relationships... For the record, my favorite is Hotel New Hampshire. While reading, I remember thinking it was too twisted for me, but by the time I was finished, I was overwhelmed by the power of what is a really great book, about family and just how important it is.
Anyway, a few nights ago as I set out to make dinner, one of my favorite and most comforting dishes, I thought of a John Irving quote, this one from The World According to Garp. "If you are careful," Garp wrote, "if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat." Granted, ever since the arrival of baby A, my days are a mixture of wonder and delight, so I wasn't feeling sorry for myself as I sorted a brightly colored pile of vegetables atop my cutting board. I was, however, dwelling on the happy thought of our dinner, a simple, homely meal that I first learned about from a dear former colleague, Teresa.
I was especially close to Teresa because in addition to working with her every day, she was also the mother of one of my favorite students. We spent many hours discussing her daughter and how to best help her succeed, but we also bonded over a love for good food. Teresa's family is large and Irish-Catholic, three boys and one girl. It's not difficult to picture her bustling household. Despite being in a constant state of busy-ness, Teresa always made sure to have the family sit down together for a home-cooked dinner. I know those words are tossed around a bit casually these days, but the sad thing is a routine like that is something families tend to aspire towards rather than insist upon.
In addition to making sure her family spent quality time together at the dinner table, Teresa also made an effort to making birthdays and holidays, even the smallish ones, really special. For Valentine's Day, she set the table with vases of red roses and her best china and crystal, and the kids drank out of wine glasses. For her son's fifteenth birthday party, she draped a sheet on the side of the house in the backyard and rented a projector-surprisingly, the angst-y teens had an amazing time watching the relatively tame When a Stranger Calls while devouring party treats. When her nephew turned 21, the entire family, minors included, met at an Irish pub to share in a first pint. Teresa's special attention to details that don't even require a lot of cash or time always made an impression on me. She would get along famously with my mother-in-law, who also works to make every occasion exactly that, an occasion, with a real reason for celebrating. Now that I have baby A, I often think about what kind of home I want ours to be. More often than not, Teresa's (and my MIL's) come to mind.
Mexican Chicken (serves 4)
(the amounts listed can easily be tweaked or adjusted to suit your purposes-I often double up on the vegetables because it makes me feel virtuous)
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts or tenders
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 yellow squash
1/4 cup sliced green olives (I don't love olives, so I don't include them)
1 4 ounce can of diced green chiles
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained
1 large tomato, chopped
1. Brown the chicken in a large skillet or pot. The dish seems to work best for me if I've sliced the chicken into bite-size pieces or strips first. Once the chicken is browned, add the garlic and onion to the pan and continue to sauté until lightly browned.
2. Add the remaining ingredients, one at a time, sprinkling them one on top of the other. It works best if you go in order of ingredients, with the juicy tomato last.
3. Simmer on low heat for two hours. Do not stir! It will be tempting, but this way the chicken stays especially moist and tender.
4. Serve with rice. If I'm feeling especially healthy, I'll make a batch of brown rice, though it's not SH's favorite. I might compromise with half white, half brown, which is very conveniently done in my rice cooker.
Again, this dish is extremely simple and unfussy. It is also delicious. At Teresa's suggestion, I make extra for the next day. I dish out spoonfuls onto single tortillas, then top with grated cheese (cheddar or Monterey jack, but it's totally a matter of preference) and a second tortilla. I crank up the oven and let the tortillas sit until the cheese is oozing out of the sides in a delectable-looking manner. Then I serve my oven-baked quesadillas with a bottle of Cholula and a cold drink. Yum.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
I sat poised over my laptop at exactly 9:58 yesterday morning, two minutes before the presale for Coldplay tickets began. As is usual in these situations, my back was tensed and ramrod straight. My credit card number clearly memorized. My mind plotting the diagram of the stage and which side had the best view. I would not be defeated this time, Ticketmaster/LiveNation/supplier of concert tickets.
The good news is that I did manage to obtain tickets. It's tough, obviously, to get great seats when buying for group, even a small one like ours, but the alternative of not sitting together is dreadful. It looks like I'm going to have to use my "wait a few months" strategy to improve upon our otherwise fairly forlorn seats. Take note, Coldplay. This is what happens when you wait a veritable ETERNITY to return to the US for a tour.
For the record, Mylo Xyloto isn't my favorite album (that would be Viva la Vida), but I'm warming to it day by day. Besides "Paradise," I'm really loving "Hurts like Heaven" and "UFO." I should also say that I'm still rattled every time I hear Rihanna's voice on "Princess of China." Something wrong about that.
P.S. I feel that there was some illegal substances involved in the production/conception of this video.