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.

Tres Leches Cake…The Fearless Cook bakes

I was in Super Walmart a couple of weeks ago, picking up odds and ends. I wandered over to the baking aisle and this cake mix caught my eye.  Tres Leches cake. I had only heard of it a couple of years ago when at a graduation party. Living in the Western U.S. for the past 25 years I have embraced the food, faith and history of the Latino-Mexican culture.  With Cinco de Mayo just a day away, I had to give it a try.

It has an interesting, but conflicting origin to its history. Many references remark that it gained popularity in Latin America as a recipe on the side of the sweetened condense milk and evaporated milk can. Other references site it’s origins to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico. 

It is a sponge cake. A regular baked cake, saturated with milky goodness – three milks to be exact. Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whipping cream.

So, following the recipe is standard: yellow cake mix (1/4 C flour added for high altitude baking) eggs and water. Mix and pour into a 13 x 9 inch greased and floured baking pan. Bake then cool for 10 minutes.

Because I was following a cake mix, it called for 3 1/2 C milk that were mixed with a packet of powdered milk that turned into a syrup.

Poke holes in the cake about 1/2 inch apart. Then pour all that milk until the cake has soaked up every last bit of it.

Frost with whipped cream. Then decorate with fruit of any kind.

What did the Fearless Cook learn?

Lesson #1

After searching several websites I looked for an authentic recipe. I found the What’s Cooking America website to give a little history and a scratch recipe.  http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/TresLechesCake.htm    The website was very helpful as the cake mix didn’t give a lot of direction on how to frost, decorate or serve the cake. I could easily have made this cake from scratch, but then I wouldn’t have gotten my post up for Cinco de Mayo!

Lesson #2

I was amazed at how milky it really was and the cake didn’t fall apart! I even drained off some of the milk as it overly saturated. And it was delicious. My husband wanted pie on Sunday night, so I bought him a pie and I made this cake. He skipped the pie and had two servings of the cake!

Lesson #3

One website showed a beautiful two layered Tres Leches cake. The “easy” recipe they touted was to bake two yellow cakes in 8″ round pans, stack together, poke holes through the cake and then pour the three milks in to soak. I don’t know how they got that cake to stand alone with all the milk in it and then whipped cream frosting and decorated. Oh well I guess I’ll have to give it a try.

Tener un gran día!

The Fearless Cook makes…Chicken Parmesan

 
Chicken Parmesan
The third recipe in my Italian Chicken series challenge.
 
Chicken Parmesan is a popular American favorite of Italian dishes. Fried chicken with pasta? What’s not to like?
 
I’ve alway been scared of frying chicken. I used to look in amazement at my mother frying chicken. She was talented and had no fear. 
 
I’m also afraid of getting burned. I’ve had oatmeal dropped on my thighs at age 7 yrs. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had their arms burned from frying chicken at their home. It was a grease fire from the skillet onto the stove top. 
 
So when I approach frying I do so …..very….carefully.  Chicken Parmesan is all about the breaded chicken cutlets. The crispier the better.
 
There were seven steps: Prepping, dredging, dipping, breading, resting, frying and broiling.
 
Prepping.  The cutlets (boneless breasts or thighs) are pounded thin with a meat hammer. Then place tje cutlets in a sealed plastic bag with water and 1-2 tsp of salt, for at least 30 minutes. Then pat dry the cutlets with a paper towel.
 
Dredging. One cutlet at a time, dredge into flour, covering both sides. 
 
Dipping. Take the floured cutlet and dip into beaten eggs (two) with olive oil mixture, covering both sides.
 
Breading. The cutlet is now pressed into an Italian bread crumb mixture that has minced garlic and oregano. Pressing the moist cutlet carefully onto both sides until covered with crumbs.
 
Resting.  Place the cutlet on a wire rack and let it rest for 10 minutes setting the bread crumbs before frying. This was a pivotal step! I never knew how important this was to making a great finished product!
 
Frying.  Six tsp of olive oil into a non-stick skillet and heat oil is shimmering. Fry two cutlets at a time about 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.  Remove from skillet wtih tongs and set aside on a warm plate. Before frying the last two cutlets remove the skillet from the burner and clean out the oil with paper towel. Repeat the process again for frying the final two cutlets.
 
Broiling. Place 2-3 TBSP of mozzarella cheese and 1 TBSP of parmesan cheese atop each fried cutlet. Place all four cutlets in a broiler pan and place under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.
 
Serve atop spaghetti and a tomato-basil-garlic sauce.
 
So what did The Fearless Cook learn?
 
Lesson #1
The skillet got really hot with frying, so I had a lid ready to cover the popping oil when it freaked me out. I took it off the heat whenever I needed to turn the cutlets with a tongs.  AND I had to take the skillet away from the burner because the oil flew onto the burner and smoked it a few times.
 
Lesson #2
Frying is time consuming. The frying heated up the kitchen and the fear of frying heated me up. The entire process took about 90 minutes. Once the cutlets were done, the sauce and the pasta were ready to go and it went together quickly to serve.
 
This was such a fabulous meal I have made it twice already. The cutlets were oh so crispy. Better than Stouffers!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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!