Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kate Miller 20: Cooking and Recipes

Good food + good company = good times.

20. Cooking and Recipes
            Kate was definitely getting her energy back. She hadn’t even realized she had been so tired, but now she was actually looking forward to an entire afternoon of cooking and baking. A month ago, the mere thought of baking a cake would have made her crawl back in bed for a long nap. Of course, there was the added benefit of company—not to cook for, but to cook with.
            “Well, Bettina,” Kate hugged her sister-in-law and asked her hesitantly, “there’s lots of cooking we could do today. Would you like to help?” Kate remembered how she had started learning the fun of cooking with friends when she was a freshman in college. Maybe now was Bettina’s turn. She certainly appreciated good food, and that’s always a good starting place.
            “Yes!” Bettina replied enthusiastically. She jumped up and washed her hands.
            Kate loved it when Bettina spoke in exclamations. Her sister-in-law was thin and strong and perky; inevitably reminding her either of the quick, cute chipmunk that lived underneath their porch, or a lively, energetic, happy, puppy dog (though vastly superior for her not being one, since Kate, though she appreciated their cuteness, didn’t much care for dogs in general.)
             For today, their project was lots of side dishes. First up was broccoli salad: so easy it was impossible to mess up, and so yummy that Kate (when eating alone) had at least once made it her main dish instead of a side. Of course, who can resist anything with a pound of bacon…? Bettina chopped broccoli and bacon while Kate made the dressing and grated cheese. Kate, as usual, stuck her finger in the mixture and raised it to her lips.
             “Mmmm, try that!” she ordered. Bettina took the cup of sugary/vinegary dressing.
            “Wow!” Another exclamation. “That’s great!”
             Kate grinned. So far, so good. Bettina was a fun an lively companion in the kitchen. Next was slightly more complicated, vastly more time intensive, and also so amazing that one could make it (though not advised) a main course: Pretzel bread.
            Pretzel bread was a new discovery. Ever since Kate had heard about this recipe from her friend, Louise, she had made it every few weeks, sometimes for friends and company, and it was always a hit. Bettina had never made any kind of bread from scratch, and Kate wanted her to see how easy it could be. She walked her through each step, demonstrating, but letting her do it on her own. The most difficult part was the kneading, but Bettina eventually got the technique, and soon they were waiting for the bread to rise.
“Well!” said Kate, still surprised at how energetic she was feeling, “The bread will rise for an hour, and that gives us just enough time to whip up some lemon cake.” The night before, Kate had mentioned that she had some leftover lemon-cream cheese frosting in the fridge…so obviously, there was a call for lemon cake. This, while it certainly didn’t take the time of the bread to rise twice and bake, was the most complicated of the three dishes. It was a usual dry ingredients/wet ingredients affair, but requiring the separation of eggs, and the later whipping and folding in of the egg whites.
They had a late afternoon snack of fresh pretzel bread, and as they all took seconds, Mom Miller said enthusiastically, "You know, I think bread might be my favorite food." Kate's heart and tummy were both warm. She was having so much fun and learning so much about her new family!
Everything turned out fabulous, and that night at dinner, between the seven at the table, the bread, the broccoli salad and the twelve pieces of cake were all demolished. Not a crumb remained. Kate hugged Bettina again. “What a fun day!” she sighed. “It’s so great having someone to cook with.”
Bettina smiled and said cheerfully, “I think I could live here and eat good food and read all your books all day long.” (She had already finished four novels that Kate had shoved in front of her.)
“And welcome!” Kate replied emphatically.

Broccoli Salad
2-3 large heads of fresh broccoli (with or without stems, chopped into small pieces
1/2 large red onion
1 lb bacon, cooked and chopped into pieces
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1tbs sugar dissolved in...
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 cup mayonaisse  

Combine all salad ingredients. Combine dressing ingredients, making sure to dissolve the sugar in the vinegar before you add the mayo. Pour the dressing over the veggies and mix together--such simple deliciousness! 

Lemon Cake (Kate doubled this recipe, which is originally for 6 small cakes in ramekins) 
7 tbs butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup milk
juice from half a lemon

Cream butter and sugar, then add the egg yolk and vanilla and whisk. Add flour, lemon zest, and baking powder, and fold together (don't beat.) Add milk and lemon juice and stir well. Whisk egg with clean beaters till it is light and fluffy, and then fold it into the cake, carefully, trying not to let the bubbles collapse too much. Bake about 30 min at 350F.

*link to pretzel bread recipe: 

One of four loaves of pretzel bread
The lemon cake--YUM!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kate Miller 19. The Hasty Meal

Why is it that some people are always inclined to try something new when company is coming? 

19. The Hasty Meal (March 2013)
            Mister was at an evening class, and Mister’s parents were due to arrive at the same time that Kate was supposed to go pick him up from school. The issue was dinner. Mom and Dad Miller had asked (and were told) that dinner would be served after they arrived—it was usual, anyway, for Kate and Mister to eat after his class ended around 7:15. But here she was, at 7:00, still deciding what to make! She had put on some rice earlier, thinking that a quick and easy stir fry might be in order. But then she remembered how her own father disliked Chinese-style food, and thought that maybe she had better try something else, just in case. She flipped through a mental rolodex of other quick and easy options. First up was chicken in a skillet with mushrooms and onions and seasoning…hmm. She got out the mushrooms and onions.
            Then, without fully thinking about what she was doing, she pulled out a large casserole dish, buttered it, and spread the rice around the bottom. She quickly cut the chicken breasts into thirds and squished them into the rice. She looked at the clock—7:10. Class was getting out and the Millers would arrive any time. Thank goodness the rice is cooked! she thought. It was time to leave, so she sped up her motions and made instant decisions. Two onions, quickly chopped, were spread on top of the chicken. A package of mushrooms, chopped (not too prettily) were tossed on top of that. Salt and white pepper over the whole thing. Then a last, daring inspiration: a third cup of port, a half cup of cream, and three-quarters cup of milk, with two eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper beaten in. She whipped it up, poured it on top, shoved it in the oven, and ran out the door.
            It was only in the five minutes that it took to drive to school that Kate’s mind slowed enough to consider what she had just done. Never in her life had she tried to make a casserole of that sort. Normally, she would have researched online half a dozen different recipes before trying something wholly new. Eggs—why had she thrown in eggs? To thicken it of course, but what if she should have put in more…or less…or made the liquid to egg ratio different? And she hadn’t tasted anything! She always tasted her food when she was making it, and definitely before serving it. What if it was bland? Kate hated bland food. Now she was stuck, with nothing else to serve but a new, untried conglomeration, for her in-laws to eat on the first night of their visit, after a long journey! Kate sighed. This could be such a disaster, she fretted.
            Mister hopped into the car, and Kate instantly spewed her worries. “I don’t even know what I was thinking!” she exclaimed over and over again. “Why couldn’t I have just made something normal?!” Mister looked at her calmly, totally unphased by his wife’s hysterics.
            “Dear, I hope you realize that you have a perfect trek record,” he said slowly. “You have never made anything bad, no matter how crazy the experiment.”
            Kate paused a moment for the words to sink in. It seemed almost arrogant to accept such praise, but she had to admit that it was true. Nothing she had made in their three and a half years of marriage had ever turned out badly. Of course, some were better than others, but nothing bad.
            She nodded, “Thanks.” Then she thought of the oven, and added, “I hope I don’t start tonight.”
            Mister’s parents arrived just after Kate and Mister pulled up to their door. Kate tried to give them an enthusiastic greeting, but in the back of her mind, she was wondering what was going on inside the oven. Twenty minutes of anxious fretting and fidgeting and trying to make small talk, and finally, they were sitting down to dinner, asking a blessing and digging in.
            “Hey,” said Kate, “this is really good!” She was flabbergasted.
            Mister merely shook his head. He didn’t even need to say, “I told you so.”
            “Yes, it’s excellent,” Mom Miller agreed, “Did you try a new recipe?”
            Kate laughed heartily. “In a manner of speaking…” 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kate Miller 18: The "And Then I Found $5" Story

Sometimes it's not just an attempt at saving a bad story...sometimes you actually DO find five dollars! 

18. The “And Then I Found $5” Story  (March 2013)
            The time was Spring Break. And the place was Florida. But unlike so many other college students (and spouses) on vacation, Kate and Mister were not at the beach…or clubs…or even a swimming pool. They had brought their swimsuits (of course!) and were looking forward to the beach, but for the moment, and for most of the rest of the evening, they were in a closet.
            They had gone down to Venice where the Miller grandparents used to live, and were planning on bringing back (by truck) the beautiful dining room set to use just in time for the Miller clan to arrive the following week. “Thanksgiving worked,” Kate had reflected as they made plans to go, “but fitting that many people around our tiny tables was not something I wanted to do again.” The large dining room table would be a godsend, and the matching white china cabinet and buffet would certainly be both useful and beautiful in their lovely light green dining room. But the personal possessions at the Venice home would eventually have to be sorted through and moved to different homes. Hence, Kate was in a closet, surrounded by boxes marked with messages like: “Christmas Ribbon”, “Yarn”, and “Linens” (and sometimes more) all on the same box. She pulled off a dusty lid and began rummaging through the contents.
            Meanwhile, Mister was roaming through the house, taking pictures of furniture, paintings, pictures, kitchen appliances, and anything else he could think of that would interest other family members. He would put the pictures online so that if people wanted anything he would be able to pack it in the truck and bring it back to Virginia for pickup, since everyone was coming a few days after their return.
            “How’s it going?” he called to Kate through the closet door.
            “Mph.” Kate grunted, and then corrected, “just fine!”
            Mister came over to the door, “I hope you’re not standing on that ladder…” he said as he opened the door. Kate was standing on the ladder with a box on her head. Mister shook his head. “What am I going to do with you?” he asked.
            Kate grinned, “Kiss me?” she suggested.
            The suggestion was followed and Kate sat down again amidst a new stack of boxes. “Nothing much interesting in those,” she pointed to a stack. “I found these super-cute felt, old fashioned shoe ornament thingys,” she held one up. “But I have no idea what they’re for. Those two boxes do actually have yarn in them, though, and I’d like to take them, if no one objects.”
            She opened another box, mysteriously labeled, “For kids to go through.” She prepared herself and pulled off the lid. It was like an antique store in miniature. There was a soap bar wrapped in plastic, a small decorative box set up like a Bakery window, a glass angel figurine, cross-stitching thread, a gigantic candle, tiny glass bowls too small to be reasonably useful for anything, a similarly diminutive jar-vase-all purpose (no purpose) vessel of some sort…and the list went on and on. There was a smaller shoebox wedged in the bottom, which she pulled out and opened. Again, it struck Kate that the assortment of items held an uncanny resemblance to Mary Poppin’s handbag, though considerably less useful. But then Kate noticed some crumpled paper lying in the corner of the shoebox. She unfolded it and stifled a laugh. It was a dollar! Who had stuffed a crumpled up dollar into a shoebox full of…stuff? And then, flat and smooth, four more dollars appeared at the bottom of the box. Kate giggled and pulled the money out.
            As Kate and Mister munched on dinner, Kate drew out the list of items that she had found, while Mister sat with patient, but glazed eyes. “…and then I found $5!” Kate ended triumphantly.
            “What?!” Mister replied.
            Kate held up the four crisp bills and the crumpled one. “Five. Dollars.” Kate said.
            Mister laughed and shook his head, “And then you found $5,” he repeated. “Nice! Good story!” 

We did, in fact, get to go to the beach.
But it was March, and  low 70s outside, with a breeze, which "Kate" enjoyed very much.
But "Kate" did NOT use the boogie board. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kate Miller 17: Cravings!

Kate's on a quest for a satisfying flavor...but after all this effort, will she find it satisfying? 

17. Cravings (Feb 2013)
            Kate Miller was no ordinary pregnant lady. She saw herself with supernatural clarity. It was almost like a prophecy or an out-of-body experience. There she was, seated, chopsticks in hand, eating…no, not just eating, but filling herself with the flavor of basil and bean sprouts and ginger and noodles and hot chili sauce.
Kate had been enslaved to this vision for almost a week. In fact, it had been ever since she had stopped by a friend’s house—a friend who happened to be Vietnamese and an excellent cook—and they had whipped together some leftovers to munch on. At the time, Kate was hungry and excited to eat, but when she took her first bite of the noodle/beef/sauce combination, it awoke in her a haunting desire to taste the same flavors over and over again.
The urge was put on hold while she and Mister traveled to Boston to visit Kate’s brother and his family. But now that they were back, she was on a mission. She surfed the internet for recipes and was not daunted by mysterious ingredients like “lime tree leaves”. Lime was essential. Kate felt that, given the chance, she could consume bushels of limes in a matter of hours. But she decided that her first attempt would be to make Pad Thai. She found a well-reviewed recipe on a generic “how-to” website and then was faced with a new obstacle: where was the nearest Asian grocery store?
As luck would have it, Kate found an enormous Asian supermarket nearby, with dozens of rave reviews online (who goes online to review a grocery store? Kate thought idly,) one family even commented that they came all the way from Richmond to buy coolers full of food. Kate didn’t know quite what to expect, but when she got to the Super H-mart (for this was the undeniably prosaic name of the famed store) she understood the passion that could draw a family north one hundred miles for a grocery run. Going through the produce section alone gave her a sensation akin to that of the Natural History Museum in downtown D.C. Over and over, she thought, Something like that exists? and, What on earth is THAT? And the prices were equally exotic—in a good way. Bunches of herbs were so inexpensive that Kate wanted to gather armfuls of unknown greens simply to try them out. She bought an unearthly amount of basil and cilantro and, of course, limes. She found and purchased fish sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic chili sauce, rice noodles, tamarind paste, and a host of other essentials that Kate knew she could no longer live without.
When she returned home, Mister was there to help her unload the car. “How was it?” he asked.
“Heavenly!” Kate replied dramatically. “Red peppers were on sale for less than a dollar per pound!” she raved, “It’s like when I discovered Aldi… but it’s Aldi on steroids. Such selection! The seafood corner is like going to the aquarium. I have to take my friends there when they come!”
Mister grinned, “Yeah. Who cares about the museums and Lincoln Monument and all that?” he teased.
Kate giggled. “Tourist destination #1: Super H-Mart!”
That evening, Kate nervously followed her Pad Thai recipe. She had never made anything like this before. Not even close. And, as good as her imagination was, she frankly admitted that she never would have dreamed of putting such ingredients together in such a way. She fretted over the sauce and noodles and chicken. What if it wasn’t good enough? What if it didn’t fulfill her vision and infuse her being with the flavors that she so desperately longed for?
Mister was unsympathetic. “You’ve never made something bad,” he encouraged, “it’s going to amazing.”
And, as usual, Mister was right. Kate set the plates down and squeezed two lime wedges over the the tops of each. After the blessing, Kate took a bite and then giggled. How could something be so perfect? Mister listened patiently as she chattered about the ingredients and other recipes she wanted to try. But when he got up for seconds, she stopped abruptly and looked jealously at his plate and at the pan (which still had plenty of leftovers.)
      “Don’t eat all of it,” she warned, “I want to make sure there’s enough left for breakfast.” 

And for those who want it, here's the link to the recipe:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kate Miller 16: Sharing the News

Why would Kate be calling about a Valentine's Day dinner all the way across the country? Was this just her unique way of drawing out Kate's big news? 

16. Sharing the News (Feb 2013)
            “How’s Williamsburg?” Kate’s mother asked as they talked on the phone.
            “Wonderful! Like coming home.” Kate and Mister were spending a long weekend in Williamsburg with a family that Kate had known growing up in Alaska. “We got to tell the Morttes we’re expecting!” Kate told her mother. “Mrs. Mortte did a very enthusiastic ‘baby dance.’”
            “Oh good! Now I can talk about it! Have you told Mrs. T yet?”
            “No, but I will. I’ll call her when I hang up with you, and then the three of you can gab about it as much as you want.”
            “Great! Well go call her then!” And Mrs. Laurie Wills was off the line in an instant.
            Kate laughed. Her mother had been very patient, waiting for Kate to tell all of her friends. Mrs. Mortte and Mrs. T had both been so encouraging while Kate had been wishing to have children that she especially wanted to deliver the good news herself. She picked up the phone to dial Mrs. T. At any rate, I’m sure she’ll know the news right away, since I never call just to chat.
            Kate couldn’t have been more wrong. Mrs. T answered the phone and was enthusiastic and cheerful (as always) when Kate identified herself. But instead of saying, “Do you have some exciting news?” as Kate had expected, Mrs. T went an entirely different direction.
            “I assume you’re calling about the Sweetheart dinner?” she said, bustling efficiently about her kitchen.
            Kate was taken aback. Why would she be calling about their church’s Valentine’s dinner? She hadn’t even remembered that it was an annual event until now. Maybe she was being sarcastic? Kate decided to play along, “Yes, of course!” she said, “Tell me all about it.”
            It was Mrs. T’s turn to be taken aback. “Wait,” she said slowly, “You want me to tell you about it, or do you have something to tell me?”
            Kate stared blankly at the wall in front of her. This is unbelievable, she thought, does she think I’m someone else? She abandoned subtlety and said, “No, I do have something to tell you. I’m pregnant!”
            Mrs. T gasped and exclaimed, “Well! That IS good news…I never would have guessed!...” she gushed on with congratulations and questions of health for a few minutes and then she slowed as a thought dawned on her. “So, you really weren’t calling about the Sweetheart Dinner, were you?”
Kate laughed heartily. “No, of course not. Mister and I are here in Williamsburg with the Morttes, and my poor mother has been asking over and over if I’ve told you, she’s being dying to talk about her new grandbaby. Why on earth would I call about the dinner?”
            “Aha!” Mrs. T’s smile came through in her voice and Kate knew the laugh lines were around her eyes at that moment. “Well, you know that each year at the dinner there is some kind of contest for the couples or the tables to do that the young people judge. And I’ve been asking your mother if she would ask you for ideas…but I can see that she’s had other things on her mind.”
            “How funny!” Kate exclaimed. “I suppose she must be pretty preoccupied. I just spoke with her, and she still hadn’t mentioned it! I suppose I never notice because she’s always very focused when I talk with her!”
            “Yeeees. I’m sure she is.” Mrs. T had a flair for the comic side of life and infused those few words with every ounce of her good, dry humor.
            “Well, you should call her and give her a hard time about forgetting to ask me about it.” Kate grinned.
            “Yes. I’ll certainly do that.”
            After talking over ideas for the dinner, they hung up and Kate laughed aloud. Her mother was always so good at accomplishing requests from other people, she must have been really distracted to have forgotten to mention the dinner all those times that they had talked. Of course she knew that her mother was excited, but it was always fun having extra evidence of just how excited she was.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kate Miller 15: Guacamole Revolution

For all you avocado lovers out there...

15. Guacamole Revolution (Feb 2013)
            Kate was mortified. What on earth had happened? All these years she had been consistent. She had been honorable. She had tried the avocados and had always found them lacking. She was the first to admit that she liked liking things…but after twenty-six years of not liking something, even after trying it periodically all along…this was, essentially, treachery.

As of two weeks before, in her pregnancy, Kate had not experienced any specific cravings. In fact, it seemed that she still liked all the foods she liked before, though some had been demoted from “candy-like” to “tolerable” –even foods that most people didn’t like at all in their first trimester, like smoked salmon or coffee. She still liked both, though she had been a little ashamed about her apathy when she and Mister had pulled out some salmon earlier in the week. It was understandable, considering how quickly she was forced (by her sense of smell) to run through the seafood department at the grocery store. But at least she still liked eating it!
Then there was Super Bowl Sunday. They had gone to a party at another couple’s apartment to watch the game—but mostly to take part in the amazing snacks. Kate and Mister perched on stools behind a couch, with Kate conveniently close to the chips and dip. That was when all the trouble started. To start off, she stuck with the chips and salsa, knowing her predisposition against avocado-infested guacamole. But sooner or later, she knew she would have to take her obligatory bite, just to confirm with herself that was still justified in saying she didn’t like avocados. But before she even thought about it, she was taking seconds! And thirds!! She was truly relieved that the food was stationed behind most other people and wished that this scary inconsistency in her nature would resolve itself before it became apparent to anybody else.
Ah, but wishes rarely come true. And even though Kate led a charmed life stuffed with a surprising number of fulfilled wishes, this wish was not granted. Here she was, one week after the game, sitting not at the back of a crowded room of people focused on something else, but at an intimate dinner table, where everyone could see everything she ate! And there, on the table, were enchiladas, chips, salsa, and…guacamole. Kate eyed the green mixture with the curiosity one has for something delightful and forbidden. At the same time, her heart sank. What if she liked it? What if she liked it even more than a couple weeks ago? Would she still be the same person? What would it mean for her identity to shift from an avocado hater to an avocado lover? What if it became an insatiable craving…how would she pick out avocados at the store? She didn’t know the first thing about ripeness or peeling or slicing or preserving. What if….?
She sat tensely, laughing at everyone’s jokes, making comments on the morning’s sermon, desperately trying to hide the internal crisis at hand. She passed plates and bowls, and served up a little of everything, even (or especially) the guacamole. But she put off tasting it. She ate her enchiladas. She drank her San Pellegrino. She ate her rice. Finally, she dipped a chip into the guacamole and raised it to her mouth. She heaved a deep sigh. She knew she was sunk. The guacamole was irresistible.
What was worse was that there was no hiding it. Mister watched her with a smirk on his face as she helped herself to seconds. And when she got up to refill the guacamole bowl, Mister explained to everyone at the table about her identity crisis and her previous life as an avocado hater. Everyone at the table grinned cheerfully. They were all avocado lovers. Is this what is happening to me? Am I joining a manic club of avocado Apple users? Will I become an avocado ‘user’ that roots for everyone else to love avocados? She left the question behind and looked at the pile on her plate.
“Could someone pass the chips down here, please?” she asked.