Tuesday, September 19, 2017

the unraveling

I’m up to my ears, people. UP TO MY EARS, I tell you. I’m in another play, and this, I'm learning, is how plays begin for me...with me crawling into a hole and dying. Rehearsals start, and, BAM, I’m drowning. All the lines! All the lines! How will I ever memorize all the lines!

For two weeks now, I’ve crept around the house in the pit of despair, the hundreds of lines like thick chains wrapped around my ankles and wrists. With every step, I rattle and groan. I lose sleep at night and nap during the day. I come home from rehearsal and crash on the couch. I have zero energy. The exhaustion is constant.

The actual memorization gives me straight-up panic attacks: I memorize a line and then imagine standing on stage and forgetting it. WHY DO I DO THIS. I don’t know. I can’t seem to stop. My terror is unbridled. It threatens to consume me.

“Bird by bird,” my husband says. “Give it time.”

He’s right, of course. I know that.

I just can’t feel it.

Then there are the waves of crippling self-doubt. The other actors are trained! They’ve gone to school for this stuff! They teach it! They understand it! Acting is their world! And me? I still get confused between upstage and downstage. 

I confide this to a friend and shebless her heartsnaps, “So what? Sometimes all the training gets in the way.”

I don’t know if that applies to me, but, briefly, I feel better. I'll take it.

And then, right at the end of the second week of rehearsals, there’s a shift. I begin to get off-book. My terror lessens and my confidence rises. Maybe, just maybe, I can do this, I think. Also, Hey-hey! This might actually be fun!

So to sum up, I’m in a play! It's awesome! I get to tell jokes and ask lots of probing questions and chainsmoke! I want to feel pumped about it, like this:

But mostly, I feel like this:

Accepting ego strokes, bottles of wine, and votes of confidence.

Love, always and forever,
The Basket Case.

PS. Show are October 12-15 and 19-22. For tickets, go here.

This same time, years previous: the big bad wolf and our children, baking with teachers, candid camera.

Monday, September 18, 2017

the quotidian (9.18.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

If you ever get the urge to top a lemon blueberry cake with a tahini-sugar drizzle, don't.

By the quart: grape jelly.

Vintage tuna and macaroni salad, with peas.

Too bad I made two: a fresh tomato pie with grilled chicken and basil that no one much liked.

 Apples from our tree 
Scrappy and free
For pie

Oh, girls!

Snip-snip—OOPS, giggle-snortsnip. 
(I have no idea what I'm doing.)

What. You lookin' at me?

(Photo by my older son.)
In search of shade. 


Curious George.

A window for Chomper.

When dragons sleep....

This same time, years previous: nectarine bourbon pie, historical fun, in defense of battered kitchen utensils, the quotidian (9.16.13), the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall, the potluck solution, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, hard knocks.

Friday, September 15, 2017

cast iron skillet steak

My younger son calls steak “steek,” as in, “Man, this is good steek.”

“Hon, it’s steak,” we corrected.

He stopped chewing. “Um, no,” he said. “It’s s-t-e-a-k. That’s steek.”


I’ve cooked steak twice now, and so far only on the stovetop. The first time, it was just me and my husband at home. We watched a series of how-to-cook-steak videos together (here and here), and then I cooked each steak individually, testing the firmness of the meat against our own skin (there’s the finger test—so cool!—and the arm test), and then cutting it in half to see if we were getting the desired results.

We also cooked several potatoes that my parents had given us (because we were out of potatoes and we simply had to have potatoes to go with our steak), mashing them up, peels and all, with lots of hot milk, butter, and salt.

And then we ate and ate and ate.

And ate.

And ate some more.

“The steers were grass fed,” I said, “so basically we’re just eating grass, right?”

My husband snorted at my slightly faulty logic—okay, okay, erroneous—but the meal did feel incredibly satisfying and nutritious and healthy. Sanctimonious, practically.

(Oh, and then I—get this—left the big tupperware container full of gorgeous strips of medium rare steak out on the counter overnight. I was so mad at myself! But then I emailed my aunt, an excellent cook who is also a non-alarmist pragmatist, and she said we could still eat it so we did, in fajitas with onions and peppers, yum.)

Then this past weekend, we cooked up a couple porterhouse steaks and three New York Strip steaks. (I had wanted to try ribeye and strip, to compare the difference, but my husband didn’t listen to my instructions, oh well.) So far—all two times—we cook our steaks on the outdoor cookstove, on the deck, because cooking steak is a frightfully messy business! By the time I’m done, the deck is speckled with grease droplets.

And we even put an old sheet down to try to catch the mess. Guess we need a bigger old sheet next time....

Here's what I want to know: How in the world do all those fancy, white-aproned chefs in the videos manage to cook their steaks without getting grease everywhere and setting off the fire alarm? I do not understand.

Probably I’m just not classy enough.

That evening, the kids were home (all but my younger daughter), and they all—every single one of them—went bananas.

My older daughter cut the porterhouse steaks off the bone, and they all picked through the piles of steak searching for the rarest—bloodiest—morsels. My younger son adulterated his steak with store-bought BBQ sauce, but the rest of us doused ours with the red wine and butter sauce I’d made from the pan drippings.

I was looking forward to leftovers so we could have steak and eggs some morning, but no such luck. I guess if I want leftovers, I’ll need to cook up some more steaks.

Which is fine with me, really.

And everyone else, apparently.

Cast Iron Skillet Steak

*Get steaks that are 1¼ to 1½ inches thick. (I think ours are a little on the thin side.) So far, sirloin steaks are my favorite.
*If the meat has a good cap of fat, leave it on. You can remove it after cooking.
*Make sure the steak is at room temperature before cooking.
*Until you know what you’re doing, cook one steak at a time.
*Helpful tools: long-handled tongs, a stopwatch, a meat thermometer.

And hey, I am still a newbie at this steak-cooking business, so if you have tips, please share. I'm planning to try them on the grill next....

For the steaks:
steak, at room temperature
salt and pepper
butter and olive oil
fresh rosemary or thyme, several sprigs
a couple cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1 large glass of red wine

Liberally salt and pepper the steak on both sides.

Place the skillet over a medium-high flame. When hot, drizzle in some olive oil. Add the steak. Start the stopwatch.

To make sure the steak cooks evenly from both sides, flip every minute. After a couple flips, sear the sides of the steaks, holding the meat upright with a pair of tongs.

About half way through the cooking time, begin seasoning the meat: After each turn, brush the top with butter, rub it lightly with garlic, and brush it with the fresh herbs that you’ve just swished through the hot oil.

For medium-rare steaks, cook for about 8 minutes or until the meat reaches 145 degrees. Place the steak on a plate and tent with foil.

Repeat the process until all the steaks have been cooked.

For the red wine and butter sauce (optional), add a little fresh oil to the pan, mince the garlic and toss it in. Add the sprigs of whatever herb you were using. After a minute, dump in a glass of red wine. Cook for a couple more minutes until the wine is reduced by half. Whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of butter. Strain the sauce.

After the steaks have rested for 5-10 minutes (or however long it takes to finish cooking all the steaks), slice them at a 45 degree angle across the grain and arrange on a plate. Pour over any meaty juices that have collected in the bottom of the “resting” plate. Serve with buttery mashed potatoes and the red wine and butter sauce.

This same time, years previous: black bean and veggie salad, the quotidian (9.14.15), cinnamon sugar breadsticks, whole wheat jammies, Greek pasta salad.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

the brothers buzz

Last week my older son went over to his grandparents' house to get some help with his chemistry. When he came back home, he was bald.

The younger kids freaked, covering their eyes and carrying on like they'd seen a monster. And then my older daughter walked in and stopped dead in her tracks.

He was going bald anyway, and there was pretty much nothing he can do to cover it up. Just flaunt it, I suggested. There are lots of handsome, bald men. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Apparently, he takes me seriously.

And then, a couple days later, my younger son decided to cut his hair. He messed around with a pair of scissors for a while.

But then he got tired of that and switched to the cutters.

He says his head feels wet all the time, from the cool air, and he's taken to wearing a stocking cap to keep warm, but over all, he's pleased as punch with his new look.

Really! He is!

When my younger son started chopping off his hair, I suddenly got worried that my older son would be annoyed that his brother was copying him. So I texted him, just to give him a heads up.

My older son was cool with it, though.

Brotherly baldies for the win!

PS. When he read this post, my older son said, "That's why you texted me? Why would I be annoyed? That's dumb."

This same time, years previous: what they talked about, lemon butter pasta with zucchini, homemade ricotta.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

lemony mashed potato salad

Labor Day weekend, my Pittsburgh brother and his family came in for a visit. They stayed with my parents, so Sunday afternoon, we decided, his family would come to our house for a visit.

But then, when we were on our way home from church, my brother called to point out that, because he and his wife were planning to cook some minute steaks (that they’d gotten from us) for supper at Mom and Dad’s that night, they wouldn’t be able to stay very long at our house. And also, my brother added, my other brother’s family wanted to join them for supper, but, He wants to grill thirty hot dogs and I want to grill the steaks and since you have the best grill, um, well... Can everyone just come to your house for supper?

Of course I said yes. Because impromptu merriment—the more people the better—is my favorite. Leaves me less time to get stressed, see?

A couple hours later when I was lounging on the sofa (I told you, no stress!), a New York Times Cooking email popped into my inbox, and in it was a recipe for a mashed potato salad…with olive oil. And fresh rosemary. And lots of lemon. Looked like I had a cooking experiment on my hands!

Shortly before everyone was due to arrive, I zipped out to the kitchen to whip up a double batch of buttermilk brownies (to go with ice cream) and the new, maybe-it-will-be-terrible potato salad.

I really wasn’t sure what everyone would think—I’d never put lemon zest in a potato salad before—but I needn't have worried. The salad was a smash (ha!) hit. While the mountains of meat sizzled away on the grill, everyone stood around the bowl, greedily forking it into their mouths.

(Everyone, that is, except for my Pittsburgh sister-in-law who has a thing for pickles. I didn't watch too closely, but there's a good chance she ate half the jar.)

(Oh, and not my husband, either. He prefers my regular potato salad, boring man.)

(So okay, I guess it wasn't everyone eating that salad. But still! There was a decent-sized cluster crowded around that bowl...)

Lemony Mashed Potato Salad
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe on the New York Times Cooking website.

For our family gathering, I doubled the recipe, but I’m writing it up as a single recipe. Also, I did not use the basil or dill, so I’m leaving those as options. And I skimped on the rosemary. I was afraid it would overwhelm, but I needn’t have worried. The salad would’ve easily handled the full amount (as written below).

2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled and cut into potato salad-sized chunks
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons fresh, minced rosemary
1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
Dash of hot sauce
⅓ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or sour cream)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard (homemade!)
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons fresh, minced basil or dill, optional 

Boil the potatoes in a pot of salted water until very tender. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Toss with the potatoes. Roughly mash about a fourth of the potatoes and stir to combine. If desired, add more salt, olive oil, or lemon juice. (I didn’t add extras of anything except a little salt.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.12.16), 2014 garden stats and notes, chile cobanero, making my children jump, the best parts, whooooosh!, me and mine.

Monday, September 11, 2017

the quotidian (9.11.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Tahini shortbread.

Not quite ripe enough.

I tried to hide dry pulled pork in a meatloaf. It fooled no one, but still, it went down a lot easier.

For a curry.

Spotted on a friend's Facebook post.

Steamy clean.

Chomper's new home. (He's the black blob in the bottom right corner.)


Moldy wood, deeply discounted: she wants a barn.

This same time, years previous: outside eating, calf wrangling, what writing a book is like, retreating, the good things that happen, ketchup, two ways, blasted cake, grilled salmon with lemon butter, hot chocolate.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

proper procedure for toweling off after a shower

The other night my husband walked into the bathroom and bellowed, WHO JUST GOT A SHOWER? BECAUSE THERE IS WATER ALL OVER THE FLOOR.

The rest of us didn’t hardly even bother to register the temper-tantruming adult in the other room—-we’ve long ago learned to take his fits in stride—-until he stormed into the kitchen, an empty washbasket in one hand and a towel in the other, smacked the basket down on the floor, stepped into it, and then turned to face us.

When he saw he had our attention, he announced, “There is no reason there should be water on the bathroom floor. EVER.”

And then he proceeded to demonstrate how to properly towel dry your body.

First, reach for your bath towel which you have conveniently placed on the floor by the tub and, while still standing in the tub, towel off your head.

Then do a thorough drying of your legs and then first one foot—-and step out—-and then the other foot.

Now you are standing on the bathroom mat with dry feet. Amazing, no?

See? No water on the floor! No wet socks! No angry Papa!

Calmly and happily go about the business of toweling off the rest of your body.

Drying off, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, drying off.

Have I made myself clear? There will be no more water on the floor, right?

Sure, Dad. Whatever.

And that, my friends, is the proper procedure for toweling off after a shower, according to my husband.

The end.

This same time, years previous: in my kitchen, the quotidian (9.7.15), how to clean a room, fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal, fairy rings.