Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why is it only Wednesday?

It cannot be Wednesday. It has to be two weeks from Friday. Honestly, I don't think this week could be any longer even if Husband were still in Afghanistan. I feel like I've been running to catch a train for hours and hours and Nope. Missed it again. I don't know what it is about this new job, but I sit at my desk all day and by the end of the day, I can hardly move and my head is pounding and I'm not sure I can keep up the pace. My last job let me set my own schedule of what to do each day, which even I realized at the time was a great luxury and truly unusual in the department. This one still gives me a lot of autonomy, but I swear every time I blink I have 15 new urgent emails all requiring action today because people are waiting! Come on! Get to it! One person called to ask why I hadn't sent out an e-mail she asked me to forward that morning. Um, because it's number 135 in my queue and I haven't even read it yet?

I remember my very first job in the department which was adjudicating visas. And by adjudicating I mean listening to people yell things in Chinese at me all day long while I tried to figure out what they were saying and if they were lying to me mostly based on body language because I don't know what I learned in Chinese class, but it certainly wasn't what people were yelling at me. And after straining to hear and understand and make sense of things over and over and over again all day long, Husband (who had the same job but got paid more, sigh) and I would come home, flop down on the couch and be so exhausted we couldn't make a single other decision. Not even what to eat for dinner. We ate late lots of nights back then. And also ordered in a lot because I was way to tired to cook. And you know what? This current job is even harder than that. Or maybe I am just older. Either way I am too tired tonight to be funny.

Thankfully, I have awesome children and I called Child 2 today and told her how to make dinner which is you throw eight boneless chicken thighs into a crock pot with two cans of Progresso creamy mushroom soup and a can of mushrooms and cook it on high for 5 hours. Then serve it over rice. She did it exactly right and I even texted her how to use the rice cooker, and when I came home dinner was ready and I didn't have to cook it. It was my night for dishes, though, but that doesn't require as much brain power. I think I might do this more often. The forcing children to cook part, not the dishes. I still don't like dishes.

You know what is not better than a brownie besides having to do dishes? Getting arrested for shooting an arrow at a jail. That is wrapped in marijuana. And you miss anyway.

Apparently, this guy was no Katniss so his friend waiting on the second floor of the jail never did get his contraband. Creative, but not the most successful stunt. At least they both get to hang out in jail together now. Good friends. Good times. Not.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Smoke and happiness

We set dinner on fire happily tonight. OK, not really. It was cool enough for the fire pit, so Child 3, who was in charge of dinner, said we should roast hot dogs and we did. They were delicious. But for those of you interested in chemistry, apparently soot stains melmac permanently. So since we learned from the blackend plates last time, this time we used paper which have the advantage of being easy to clean up, especially if you just throw them in the fire. Now we all smell like smoke and roasted hot dogs and I love it. No, we did not do this because a) our rake is plastic and b) I think we left it in Asia. But it is a good idea if you have a lot of people to cook for. We only had six hot dogs total, so that would be a little overkill.

You will all be happy to know that I now have most of the systems I need at work. Or at least I have all the ones that everyone else has. We are still missing two big ones, but since no one has them, we're limping along without them. I finally was able to respond to some of my around 500 emails with real information. People may not like my answers, but at least they are out of my queue. Maybe I should send everyone a follow-up e-mail after saying "your problem has been resolved." Just like the computer people do because in the Department apparently "resolved" means "not on my desk anymore."

But I actually hate that. It's like picking up piles of laundry and moving them from one part of the house to the other. It doesn't actually finish the laundry. Laundry is not "resolved" until it is washed, dried, folded, and put away. In exactly that order. Yes, children, I'm talking to you. Taking the clothes out of the suitcase and putting them on the floor is not unpacking. Neither is moving the clothes from the floor to the hamper. Although that is better than nothing, it is not "resolved." So do some laundry already! And honestly, the next time you ask me where something is and I say it is on the floor of your room and you go and can't find it and then I go into your room and pick it up off the floor and hand it to you, I swear I will spontaneously combust when you then say you never saw it!

Fire roasted marshmallows might just be better than brownies, but this video of Kristin Chenoweth really is. She called someone up out of the audience to sing a song from Wicked with her, and it turned into an awesome moment. Because the woman she called out of the audience not only loved Wicked and knew all the songs, she was a voice teacher, and man can she sing!

So kudos to you, Ms. Voice Rock Star Teacher! I hope this is only the beginning of good things to come. And I so admire your bravery for singing in public with one of the best Broadway singers ever. I could never do it. I'm awesome in the shower, though. I the shower, I defy gravity all the time.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Just call me the Master Poacher

We had a late dinner tonight, so I thought I'd cook Italian and I made risotto with poached eggs. Husband said you figured it out! Yes. Yes, I did. I am an egg poacher now. And I'm proud of it. Child 3, who was the only child eating with us, was impressed although apparently my eggs were softer than the kind her grandmother makes. But that was on purpose. If I wanted hard boiled eggs, I wouldn't be poaching them. Also, they wouldn't go very well with risotto.

The risotto, however, was not a hit. Child 3 apparently does not like risotto. Or seafood. We learned about the seafood at the beach. We were eating boiled Gulf shrimp which are large and delicious and she first complained that they weren't deveined and then told everyone that shrimp don't have veins and that black line was actually poop (which is true, but she shouldn't have reminded everyone about it.) And then she took one bite and said she didn't like seafood. I asked her then how we were going to have a restaurant in Guam if she didn't cook seafood. Then she said she would cook it but hire someone else to taste it. I highly suspect that someone else she has in mind is me, since I'm going to be doing most of the cooking anyway. I'm still not very sure about this plan.

We saw lots of old friends today. Some were at the farmer's market, which was so fun. I love the farmer's market and I love that I ran into friends from China there. And some were at a barbecue. We have lots and lots of friends arriving from various corners of the world and this year should be so much better than the last, especially since there will be no one in our house traveling to Afghanistan at all. The entire year. Unless it's me, but it won't be because I won't volunteer for that one. Cairo? Sure. West Africa? Definitely. But not Afghanistan.

This Minnesota Vikings quarterback and his sports reporter bride did something on their wedding day that made me laugh out loud which is better than a brownie.

No, not that! Honestly. They ate their first dinner as a married couple at Arby's. Which is exactly what Husband and I did. Only that was a long time ago before I was allergic to wheat. No. Seriously. Arby's. We were really hungry after the reception/party which was really much more of a party than a reception so it was perfect. And there was a lot of food, but the thing you forget about weddings is that the bride and groom don't get to eat much because they are going around talking to all the guests. At least, that is what happened to us. But at any rate we were starving at the end so we went to Arby's. So kudos to you, Mr. & Mrs. Ponder. I hope that your marriage is as long and as happy as ours and that it involves nothing about Afghanistan.

Friday, August 23, 2013

That is so not the same thing!

We went to our favorite Thai restaurant that has gluten-free food and had our customary Thom Ka Gai, which is spicy coconut and chicken soup. And it was awful. Really terrible. So bad that I couldn't finish it. I made up for it by having a second helping of the Pad Thai. But it was so disappointing. Next time I'm going to order the green papaya salad instead.

My new office is very conscientious about my needing gluten-free food. They want to make sure I can find something for lunch and that there are things for me to eat and drink at happy hour. I find it very touching. I'm not used to other people looking out for me. I was feeling sick this evening and Husband brought me a glass of soy milk. And some fresh ripe mango. I was so surprised I said what is this? And he said your blood sugar is low so I brought you some fruit. I was stunned. But very happy. Who wouldn't be happy looking at this?

OK, Child 1 wouldn't, because she hates mangoes. But then she also doesn't like tomatoes, so what does she know? OK, I take that back. She knows a lot. I know that because my e-mail has been inundated by colleges who are courting her and want her to come to their school solely based on her test scores. So good on you, Child 1! Next time, could you please use your own e-mail address?

This picture is better than a brownie. In case you can't tell, that is The President of the United States sitting at that table talking to some students. And that is a misbehaving toddler on the floor whose mother is laughing in the background. Because when your toddler is misbehaving in front of The President, all you can do is laugh because the Secret Service might just arrest you if you tackle your child and try to get him back in his stroller. Once, Child 3 danced in front of Secretary Colin Powell and laughed and he said into the microphone that he didn't know his jokes were that funny. I will always love him for that. And kudos to the White House photographer for snapping one of the best pictures of the year.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wait. . . Wait. . . Now! Dang it. No bar again.

I've been spending the past few days wandering around the beach looking for bars. No, not those kind. There were plenty of the kind that serve drinks, just no cell phone service. So thus no blog posts for the past few days. I have to admit that I didn't look very hard, because hey, it was the beach! And you shouldn't have to work very hard at anything at the beach. So I just laid around and relaxed and enjoyed relaxing and being in charge of nothing. No, really! I did too relax. In my younger days I was a type A who couldn't unwind, but I firmly believe now in taking time to do nothing.

The beach we went to was on Galveston Island because it was my family reunion. It was a lot of fun, mostly because Sister 3 did all of the planning and because we all, OK really me but I think mostly everyone, love the beach. We got in a lot of swimming both in pools and in the ocean and no one got badly sunburned, which is pretty amazing given that all of us are pretty fair and most of us are redheads.

I know you are wondering how a bunch of redheads can go to the beach without burning to a crisp and the answer lies in our expert sun-avoidance routine.  You see, when you are a redhead who loves the beach, you need to get very comfortable with wearing more clothing at the beach than you might on an ordinary day. You see, while most people wear as little as possible to the beach, and some people wear far too little, I am dressed like this.

OK, not exactly in polar gear. But remember where red hair occurs naturally and the weather mostly looks like this.

Or often like this.

Not exactly a lot of sun in those pictures. So you can see the need for sunblock, and a hat, and UV sunglasses, and a rash guard, and board shorts. (OK, the shorts are just to hide my thighs.) But thankfully, we made it through an entire summer and nobody got really badly burned. Except for fabulous Niece 1; she looked a little lobsterish. I hope she is feeling better now.

Here is what is not better than a brownie--driving across country and only being able to eat half of a meal at the restaurant. Fast food has not caught on to the gluten free movement and here is what I can eat at Subway: nothing. And Arby's: a box of meat. And Cracker Barrel: the carrots and green beans. Child 3 and I had a moment where we both broke down in frustration and hunger and disappointment at yet another menu with nothing on it that we can eat. We're still not used to this life, so we hadn't thought to stop at a grocery store and stock up. Also, we were in a rush to get back so I could go back to work where I still don't have half the computer access that I need. Ugh. So having a box of meat was sometimes the only option, and not a good one, I might add. And if I have to eat plain Fritos again for another meal, I might just scream. 

But one more thing about our beach trip; at least this didn't happen.


That is a hover craft landing on a beach in Russia. Apparently your typical day at the beach there, and no, that's not photo shopped. "Jonas", watch out for random military landing crafts while you're there! I'm not so sure I really want to bid on Russia if this is normal for the beach.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wait, how many years is that again?

Today is my anniversary. I celebrated by eating a kabob and reading a book. I know you are thinking that isn't a very romantic anniversary, and you would be right. But Husband is still on home leave so I am by myself. I'll see him tomorrow and we'll celebrate later.

I know you are also wondering why Husband is on home leave without me and what is home leave anyway? Home leave is probably the best idea that congress ever had and it is a forced vacation federal employees have to take when returning from overseas to help reacquaint themselves with America. However, only the employee who has been overseas gets it. So I have just finished the hardest year of my life by far and at the end of it, Husband gets another vacation. We have already established that I have hardly any leave at all, or really none, so I didn't get to go with him on his home leave. I know. Life is not fair and neither is the Department or I wouldn't have to buy myself shoes because I didn't get an award.

Speaking of shoes, this story makes me very happy and is almost, but not quite as good as a brownie. You see, it says that men in the UK spend more on shoes than women. This does not surprise me one bit because you know that I secretly (OK, not so secretly) believe that British designers are out to get me and hate women and this just proves it because they make such marvelous shoes for men. See these beautiful shoes for men? They are so lovely and buttery that I would wear them myself. They are almost good enough to eat. But they cost 195 pounds, which is about $305. And they don't come in my size.

And this is what they make for women.

See? I told you they hate us! That shoe isn't even close to a brownie. But these are. Husband, if you are reading this, Kate Spade makes great anniversary presents!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just because it's pink doesn't mean it's a dessert

You will all be happy to know that I have conquered the poached egg. I made one yesterday and again tonight and they were perfect and every bit as delicious as I imagined. I love poached eggs. Love them. And because they are one of the few things I am not allergic to, I am going to eat them a lot.

However, I refuse to eat any more mushy asparagus, so only fresh from now on. I should have mentioned that it was mishy because it was frozen. The market was all out of fresh when I went.

Tonight I went out for dessert with friends which for me usually means "watch other people eat chocolate." So I decided to try a caramel shake, because I'm still hoping caramel is the new chocolate. It's not. Especially when it is covered in big crystals of pink salt. Now, a few flakes of salt would have been delicious, but this was about a teaspoon and they were big crystals so they didn't dissolve and I would get a big chunk and now I feel slightly sick. But maybe that's because I think I also can't have dairy. I don't know if I can live without cheese. But at least I can still eat eggs. They are no brownies, though.

And confidential to my friend "Esperanza"--you will rock your test tomorrow. I can feel it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dinner fail

Runny poached eggs are not better than a brownie. You know what else isn't better than a brownie? Mushy asparagus. I ate it anyway because I am too tired to make something else. Ugh.

Oh, and The Dog escaped as I was leaving for work and the only way to catch her was to let her in "Caroline's" car and it was really embarrassing. AND my computer account still isn't working right and I can't send any e-mails. So the work is piling up and I can do some of it, but I can't send it to anybody which is kind of the whole point of actually doing work so that it's finished. This day really, really sucks.

It was so bad I dug out a carton of Ben & Jerry's honey caramel frozen Greek yogurt, and it was so not better than a brownie. I so miss brownies. And also New York Super Fudge Chunk.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I can't believe I ate the whole thing!

This is how I feel today. I ate way, way too much for dinner, but in my defense, it was delicious. OK, the chicken was just grilled chicken, but the carrots, oh the carrots! I sliced up some heirloom carrots, you know, the kind that come in colored bunches--red, orange, yellow, and purple. Then I caramelized them with some onions in avocado oil, which is apparently really good for sauteing on high heat. Then I drizzled balsamic vinegar on them and added fresh rosemary from my garden and oh they were so delicious. It is my new favorite way to eat carrots. But I have to figure out something for the chicken. It was perfectly cooked and very juicy, but a little boring. Anyone have ideas?

OK, these are completely not in any way better than a brownie because they cost $1,150.
But I found something even worse, this $4,000 surf board which apparently you ride with heels and a church lady hat.

Seriously, I would like to know who buys this stuff. Now, excuse me while I go out to watch the sky fall. OK, only the Perseid meteor shower, but it's beautiful and free and contains no designer logos.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

So THAT'S what it's supposed to look like!

A couple of months ago, Artemis and I went to a fancy shop that sells olive oils and balsamic vinegars and it was a revelation. Balsamic vinegar is not supposed to be runny. It is supposed to be thick and luscious. Also, it comes in white, too. The problem is that in the grocery store, what they sell you is fake balsamic. So I bought some of the real stuff and tonight, I ate it on a beefsteak heirloom tomato with some of the olive oil I bought in Greece and it was incredible. Best dinner ever. OK, not entirely, but there is nothing like vine ripened tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar was perfect with it. And also the fresh mozzarella, and the basil from my garden.

I'm discovering that food is like fashion. The cheap stuff is OK and even great on occasion, but the real stuff is worth paying for. Sometimes. Like this leather jacket I saw at Last Call which is the Nieman's outlet which is near the balsamic vinegar store. It was beautiful and buttery and on sale for $5995, which is not really a sale I can afford. It was nice to look at, but so not worth the price. Now, the Kate Spade heels for $85, I'm going to have to think about those. That might be too good a deal to pass up. Repeat after me, I don't need more shoes. I don't need more shoes, but I so want those shoes. Sigh. Maybe for my anniversary which is this week? Is it OK to buy shoes for my own anniversary present?

Walking up 48 floors to your luxury apartment is not better than a brownie, although, if you lived there and you are not allergic to chocolate or wheat, you could eat as many brownies as you want because when they built the apartment building (which is in Spain,) they forgot to put in an elevator.

I have to say, that even the North Korean building where the elevator shaft is too crooked to use was better than this. The company that is selling the building because the original one went bankrupt says it's not a problem and it can be fixed. I don't see how, though, since there is no shaft. So good luck to the people who have already bought apartments! I hope you like walking, and that the stairwells have really, really good air conditioners.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Selective color blindness

I have a brother-in-law and several cousins who are actually color blind. I know it exists. My grandma swore my grandpa was, but I think that was just willful oblivion and a strong desire to wear his Hawaiian shirt as often as possible. But I know it is a real thing and people who are actually color blind totally get a pass on sorting laundry.

Now, my children, on the other hand, will look at a pile of dirty clothes on the floor and say, nope, nothing light in there. What about those pink shorts, or the yellow shirt, or those khaki capris you have been wearing all week. Nope. Nothing that needs to go in a lights wash. Sigh. My only consolation is that someday, when they are grown up, they will be in charge of their own laundry and if everything they own turns out gray, then it will completely not be my fault. This guy didn't listen to his mom about how to do laundry.

However, thank you notes left on your pillow by one of your children just because are way better than a brownie. She totally made me cry. She may be color blind and laundry averse, but she is a sweetie for sure. Also, these come close to brownie wonderfulness. They aren't at all like brownies, but still, yumminess in every bite.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Fritos are the perfect food

We had Frito Pie for dinner again. I love Fritos. I once judged a cooking competition and one of the judges said that Fritos weren't a real food so the cowboy salsa couldn't win. I disagreed completely, but the problem was this particular judge out-ranked me in a big way, so my opinion didn't count. But Frito Pie is quickly becoming a staple at our house. Here is the recipe--put some Fritos on a plate, pour on some hot chili, top with shredded cheese. Deliciousness ensues because the Fritos have that salty corn crunch and go perfectly with chili, and who doesn't love cheese on chili? And for all you food snobs out there, Emeril Lagasse Has a Frito Pie recipe and he is a real chef so it is a real food.

Next time, I want to try adding chilies and maybe sour cream. And maybe make my own chili.

I'm getting inspired by Chopped, which is fast becoming one of my favorite shows. They are making desserts from mamey on this episode, which is a fruit I had never heard of and I have heard of a lot of weird fruit. Like mangosteen which I had the first time I went to Thailand and they are delicious. So are jack fruit and rambutans. But mamey sapote is apparently native to Nicaragua and looks a little like a papaya.

I so need to get to Central America. Really, anything south of the border because I have also been to Mexico. That is still a sore spot, especially since my Grandfather was born in Mexico and I have never been there. Thailand? Yes. Hungary? Years ago. New Zealand? You betcha. But Mexico? Never. Or I should say not yet because I. will. get. there. Someday. Just not this year because I have to go to Africa first. Needs of the Service, you know.

Child 3 and I were looking at a story on the internet when we saw these pictures. Now, I love SJP, but Child 3 doesn't know who she is and she is convinced that the dress on the left is definitely not better than a brownie.

Child 3 describes it as a netted unitard with peacock feathers. She's got a good eye for fashion, so I'm going to have to agree with her. The one on the right is a much better use of feathers. So thanks, Child 3, for the good tip on making sure there is enough "dress" in my dress. I will definitely not be wearing net in the future.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


As promised, here are the two best recipes we tried last weekend. They are both from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Mediterranean Cooking. It is a beautiful book full of delicious recipes and is fast becoming one of my favorite cookbooks, and I have many, many cookbooks. I used dried oregano because I didn't have any fresh. As a general rule, for every tablespoon of fresh herbs in a recipe, I use a teaspoon of dried. So first the zucchini.

Sauteed Zucchini with Onions and Potatoes

5 tbs olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 zucchini trimmed, halved lengthwise, and diced
1 tbs chopped fresh oregano
Sea salt (I used Kosher salt)
2 waxy potatoes, about 1/2 pound peeled and diced (red potatoes work well)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tbs of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 3 mins. Add the garlic and cook until the onion is tender, about 5 min longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onion mixture to a bowl.

Ad 1 tbs of the olive oil to the pan. Add the zucchini and oregano and sprinkle with salt to help the squash soften. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the moisture in the zucchini has evaporated and the flesh is tender, about 15 minutes. Return the onion mixture to the pan, remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium frying pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tbs olive oil. Add the potatoes, spreading them in a single layir in the pan, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the potatoes slowly, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 min. Using the slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Transfer the potatoes to the large frying pan with the squash. Cook all of the vegetables together over medium heat for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Serve at once, or let cool and serve at room temperature.

Bistecca alla Pizzaiola

1 1/2 lb boneless chuck shoulder steak, about 3/4 inch thick
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (again, I used Kosher salt because I don't have sea salt)
2 tbs olive oil
1 can (28 oz) plum Roma tomatoes drained and chopped. (I bought canned whole tomatoes and diced them myself, but I guess you could also buy diced ones.)
2 tbs chopped fresh oregano, or 2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I couldn't find mine, so I used a few shakes of tabasco sauce instead.)

Cut the meat into 4 equal pieces. Pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a frying pan over  medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the beef and cook, turning once, until browned well on both sides, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any broned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Return the beef to the pan, along with any accumulated juices. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender when cut into with a sharp knife, about 45 minutes. Uncover the pan to turn the meat several times and to check on the sauce. If it is becoming too dry, add water as needed, 1/4 cup at a time.

To serve, transfer the meat to a warmed platter or individual plates. Season the sauce to taste with salt and black pepper and spoon it generously over the meat. Serve at once. Or, if you want a thicker sauce, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Notes from me: I think the steak recipe would work really well in a crock-pot, especially if you brown the meat really well first. I'll try that next time, I think and let you know the results. I love, love, love crock-pot recipes, especially on Sundays.

Friday, August 2, 2013

When halfway equals all done

I know they are making progress on my computer account because now I can't log in at all. Before, I had a work around so I could sort of half do my work. But today, I couldn't do any of it. So of course I spent hours on the phone with the computer people trying to figure out why I was completely kicked off. And of course they were all very nice and said lots of things about servers and transfers and it was all complete gibberish to me and I had to keep reminding them to speak to me as if I didn't understand because I completely did not understand what they were saying.

But here is the thing--I speak geek. Really. In a previous life, I worked for a major software company and I completely get things like servers and log ins and transfers, so if I can't understand what they are saying and I don't get what they're talking about, then who does? It does not make me confident that they can solve my problem. But I am going on leave for a week to finally spend some quality time hanging out with Husband and the children and so I am just leaving my account in its limbo and I hope no one really needs me because if they email me, they won't get my out of office message because I couldn't set it. Because I couldn't log in. I swear I'm in one of Dante's circles of Hell. Either that or I'm about to get crushed by a giant rock.

Saving someone from an oncoming train is better than a brownie. This man in Iowa  saw an elderly couple stuck on the train tracks and he literally pushed their car out of harm's way.

That must be him reenacting the incident. But at any rate, he's a hero, to the couple he saved and everyone who loves them. Even brownies can't beat that.