Your huddled masses

As middle-class, middle-aged, suburban Caucasians, it is easy to get stuck in the same routine for work, play, and leisure. Drive in the same car everyday to work, shop at the same grocery and big box store, worship at the same location, and hang out at the local coffee stand.

We are a one car couple now and we are taking public transportation for work and to the airport. It’s not that big of deal, we’ve done it before, but it is different. My husband thinks everyone should step out of their comfort zone and take the bus in order to experience the world. People of every race, creed, color, ability, economic status and age; take the bus. It is non-judgemental because everyone is treated alike. To ride you must have a pass. That can be paid in cash, disabled or senior pass (reduced cost), monthly or yearly pass.

So I was thinking, how many places in this world are an equal playing field? Where people of all walks of life come together in one place with the same goal? So I here is my little ranking:

1. Public Transportation – The goal is to get somewhere whether it be by bus, subway, train, or light rail.

2. Hospital Emergency Room – The common goal is seeking medical care in an emergency. First one in line usually has chest pain.

3. Wal-Mart – The goal is to shop for inexpensive stuff.

4. Inner city or rural sanctuary of worship – All there to reflect on a Higher Being.

The Emma Lazarus poem, New Colossus (aka the Statue of Liberty poem), comes to mind at this time.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Happy Two Hundred and Thirty Fifth Birthday America.

Where do you experience “the mass of humanity”, where people from all corners come together? Do you have a ranking?

I read the obits

I admit it. I read the obituaries. I’m not retired and I’m not feeling old. I’m not fascinated with death and I am not morbid. My mother and father read the obituaries regularly. They check out my hometown newspaper on the internet since they’ve  lived in independent living for the past six years. Several weeks ago was tough, because several people died who they knew. When more and more of your friends and family are dying then I guess you feel like your number is coming up too?

I’m a health care provider and I started reading the obituaries when I got reports of my patient’s deaths. I wanted to see where the memorial or funeral service was being held. In a big town newspaper, not everyone’s death is posted in the obituaries. In a small town it is common news that is posted. I live in a large metropolitan area and if someone is cremated, a funeral home isn’t involved, or the family doesn’t have money to pay for the announcement, it will never appear in the paper.

Time magazine and internet websites post obituraries of famous people. They post a picture and a guest writer who knows the person will pen a fond memory.  It’s a brief synopsis capturing the highlights of a famous life.

After reading lots of obituaries and I’ve decided that everyone is famous.  Each person has lived a life completely unique to anyone else and they touched the lives of many people along their life journey.  Where that person was born, where they went to school, where they worked, who they married, how many children and siblings they had, and what contributions to society they made.

Several years ago I asked my mother to write her life story. She sat down and wrote 9 or 10 pages. It was beautiful. My mother wrote about games she played, going to the movies, and running around with her girlfriends. Pages of happiness were exuding from the paper.  My mother was the youngest girl out of seven siblings. She was happy-go-lucky. Everyone in the family protected and took care of her. She had so much fun.  My mother is 85 years old and she is not so happy-go-lucky right now. She is plugging along trying to get through her day with her many physical ailments. Despite the tears and triumphs of our relationship, I will carry with me my smiling, laughing mom. 

As I write this, I learned of my aunt’s passing. She was my mother’s oldest sibling and she was 100 years old.  I read her obituary today. It had the basics but it also had a glimpse of her personality and her boat the “Ma Belle”. I remember seeing pictures of that boat that she and my uncle would take out on the Mississippi River. They loved talking about the fun they had. 

I’ve taken stock of my life the past year, since my mother has been ill. I’ve accepted where she and my father are at on their life journey and where I fit with them and my siblings. I have maybe a good 30 years left in my life and a large part of my life story could be written today. But then again, I’m not dead yet. I’m sure I’ll have more to add.

Parents are just people

Turner Classic Movies showed Splendor in the Grass the 1961 classic with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty last night. I sat down and watched the whole movie. I was riveted to the tale of two teenagers who fall in love during Roaring Twenties and advent of the Stock Market crash. The financial state of the country from riches to rags and recovery mirrored the tale of these two sweethearts.

The couple, Bud and Deanie, are faced with how the fairy tale of  love fades and how heartbreak changes them. Deanie experiences an emotional breakdown when she and Bud are no longer a couple. It is uncomfortable for her friends and parents to witness and accept. Her mother nearly breaks down when the experts say that her daughter needs professional help. Mrs Loomis can’t believe that what is troubling her daughter can’t be fixed at home.

Near the end of the film, Deanie is speaking with her psychiatrist about whether she can handle seeing her parents again. On a previous visit her mother talked incessantly abouting wanting her little girl back home again. Deanie acknowledged she was not that little girl anymore. The psychiatrist then uttered, “Parents are just people”.  And that was the phrase that hit me smack in the eye.

I am almost an empty nester.  I haven’t been able to put my thoughts into words until I saw that movie last night. My son graduated from college a week ago. His growth into adulthood has been painful for the entire family. He has struggled with every part of studying, taking tests, caring for himself, and social relationships.  But he had grown in many aspects of his academia. 

He lived in the dorms and an apartment the first two years of college and then moved back home the last two. I didn’t want to be the bitch of a mother, but I was. I set my boundaries that he needed to do basic things to be living with his parents in our house. He rarely accomplished taking a shower using the soap; he never brushed his teeth; and rarely did his laundry. He was loud and brash, playing his video games late into the night  just a door away from our bedroom. His mantra to me was, “Whatever you tell me to do I am going to do the opposite”.

He will be moving within a week to start his new job in the next state and six hours away. He hasn’t written his thank you cards and he hasn’t made a “To Do” list. He has celebrated his graduation by lounging around and doing nothing for the past week. I don’t want to be the bitchy parent anymore. I have advised him of my boundaries. I am available until Friday and he will need to make an appointment if he needs my help before leaving. I am planning on going to a hotel or to my friend’s house for the weekend while he packs up.  I am not going to be yelled at because he can’t find anything. I refuse to have the expectation of helping him when he waits until the last minute to throw everything together.

No parent wishes to see their child struggle. It is innate to want to prevent the pain.  I don’t have super powers to make everything right anymore, because my son has not practiced his coping skills. I think my son has been mad at me because I don’t want to take care of him any more. He does a lousy job of taking care of himself. My daughter told me that I have done everything to try and teach him but he didn’t want to do it.

But parents are just people. The last several months I have tried to accept my son for who he is. Hot mess and all, it has been hard for me. I asked him to accept me for who I am. I, like him, want to be respected and loved just like everyone on the planet. And children grow up and they are just people too.  Best wishes to you my son.

An alternative to Easter ham – Italian Chicken Piccata

It’s spring and the weather is sunny one day and stormy the next. This is the last time before summer hits that we will feel comfortable heating up the kitchen and making an Italian meal.

Being that it is Easter this weekend I will focus on Chicken Piccata – the second Italian Chicken out of four that I have challenged myself to make. I had never made this dish but the ingredients are  just what we imagine spring to be, light and sunny. So if you are sick of ham or lamb and are looking for something EASY to make, try this dish.

What makes chicken piccata is the sauce. Lemon and capers; the tart and the salty. After my inaugural try, I was amazed at how easy it was to pull the dish together. 

This recipe came from The New Best Recipe (2004), the cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen. I searched the internet to check out other versions of Chicken Piccata. Some chefs breaded the breast cutlets but I thought it looked too heavy for a light lemony sauce.

If you read my last entry on Chicken Marsala, you will see that this recipe starts out similarly.

Chicken Piccata

You start with 4 chicken breasts. I am now in love with boneless chicken thighs because they are cheap and remain moist even after cooking. You could substitute the chicken breasts for thighs and get smaller portions. 

4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.
Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 
Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

The ingredients for the sauce are: 1 lemon, 1 TBSP oil, 1 minced shallot, 2 TBSP capers, 1 Cup chicken broth, 4 TBSP butter and optional ingredient 2 slices of pancetta sliced into thin strips.

 

Now in the pictures you can see my chopper/mincer. I only use this for nuts,onions or in this case, shallots, when I need them uniform and finely chopped. This is a light sauce so no one wants a chunky onion to bite into.

The recipe advises to cut the lemon pole to pole (that was a first for me to see it described that way), into 6-8 slices which I did in the picture above. The lemon slices go into the sauce and the other half of the lemon is juiced to add later. Mince the shallots and add to hot skillet with 1 TBSP oil then add the pancetta. Next time I make this recipe I’m going to cook the pancetta first and get it a little crispier and then add the shallots. The shallots become translucent very quickly.

 

Add the lemon slices and chicken broth and bring to a simmer for 4 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then add the remainder of the lemon juice and the capers, again simmering until the liquid becomes reduced, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and add the 4 TBSP of butter and swirl to melt. Place the chicken cutlet on serving plate and spoon the sauce atop as below.

Voila! Chicken Piccata.

I might just bring this to an Easter Brunch this Sunday. I will probably serve it on a bed a spaghetti with asparagus on the side. The spaghetti could be tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or maybe a basil pesto before placing the chicken atop. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

The Fearless Cook takes on…..Four Italian Chickens – Chicken Marsala

There are two things I never order when I go out to eat. One is chicken and the other is Italian food. It’s not that I dislike either one of them, because I love them both. I just always cook them at home. But here is something I have never done, cook an Italian Chicken dish at home. So here in lies the challenge for The Fearless Cook. Make four Italian Chicken Dishes: Marsala, Parmesan, Piccata, and Cacciatore. The only one of the four I have ever eaten was Chicken Parmesan. It was probably a Stouffers frozen version I served the kids many years ago.
 
So to begin Chicken Marsala we start with wine.

Marsala wine

Marsala is a sweet Italian wine that gives the sauce a smooth finish. Chicken Marsala is an Italian restaurant menu staple. I can’t believe I never tried it even once!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.

Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 

Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

Marsala sauce: 3 slices of pancetta cut into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces, 8 oz sliced mushrooms, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tsp tomato paste, 1 1/2  C Marsala wine, 1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice, 4 TBSP butter, 2 TBSP minced parsley

Pancetta

     

Saute the sliced mushrooms for about 8 minutes on medium-high heat until the liquid released from the mushrooms evaporates. Add the garlic, paste, pancetta about one minute.  Remove the pan from heat then add the Marsala wine.

Return the pan to high heat and simmer vigorously until syrupy for about 5 minutes.

Off the heat add the lemon juice then whisk in the butter one pat at a time. Stir in parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve one of two ways below.

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala with polenta

I personally liked the polenta version better. The chicken breast alone with the sauce felt empty. The polenta gave body to the dish.

All of the Italian Chicken recipes all come from my stand-by, never fail, cookbook The New Best Recipe (2004). The cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen.

One Italian Chicken down, Three to go.

Nobody wants to be Ethel

I was dubbed Ethel to my friend “Lucy”, several years ago. She would attach herself to  my hip and drag me on crazy adventures when we would volunteer once a week every year for a charitable event.

Vivian Vance, who portrayed Ethel Mertz in the I Love Lucy television series of the 1950s and 60s, referred to herself as the “best second banana in the business”.  I never thought too much about the title until one night I was watching a TV Land documentary on Laverne and Shirley – the 70’s female comedy duo.  The comparison of their show to I Love Lucy  was made. Penny Marshall had lots of family connections with the show’s production (her brother was the director). And because of that pressure Cindy Williams exclaimed “I don’t want to be Ethel”.  Lucy was the star and Ethel was the nobody. Vivian Vance who played Ethel won one Emmy in her career as Best Supporting Actress; of course Lucille Ball won five in the course of hers. Lucy was always getting the sunlight and Ethel was adding color and depth to her star.

It made me think that yes, I am an Ethel. I support my family, my patients, my friends, my co-workers – for them to shine. But you know, where would Lucy have been without Ethel? Who would’ve been her sidekick, her steady stead. The role of Ethel is rare these days because everybody wants to be Lucy. On the Laverne and Shirley show they fought constantly about the number of lines written for each character and trying to keep everything completely balanced and fair. It was chaotic on the show with the writers and crew miserable.

The world is full of ego maniacs grabbing the spotlight. Everybody’s got to have their five minutes of fame, be it on You Tube or Facebook. You’re nobody until 50 million people have seen you through the internet. Oh I’ll admit my ego was the size of the Grand Canyon when I was full of myself as a young girl with hormones and energy. It was fun to be crazy with my girlfriends and see who could be the most outrageous with a comment and get everybody laughing. People thought I was funny. But I would go “over the top” sometimes and then nobody laughed. It happens when you go for the next attention grabber and you don’t know when to stop or change the subject. Usually someone gets hurt at that point and people just walk away.

There were plenty of comedy teams in the past, not so much anymore. Most comedians go solo to have the spotlight to themselves.  The funny half of the duo says her lines and the straight half of the duo responds. I liken it to tennis. A good player lobs the ball back  to the server and keeps it within the lines for the banter to continue. And both must be sharp to pick up the underlying sarcasm and subtleties. 

Second bananas are getting their time in the spotlight. Look at Sarah Palin – she’s carried her ride into 2011 since the 2008 election. So I’ve decided that Ethel needs her own identity and not wait for Lucy to define her. Second bananas can have a life outside of the stars they support and be funny. So break out Ethel find your own mojo! But most of the time life is messy and the egos can’t always be balanced. So somebody’s gotta be Lucy and somebody’s gotta be Ethel.