The Circle of Life

It’s been nearly one year since our oldest son moved out after finishing college and made my husband and I official empty nesters. I had been so used to running around organizing other people’s lives for the past 24 years that I discovered that I didn’t have to do that anymore.  I heard someone say once that if you don’t know what to do, then don’t do anything. For me it has been a year of transitions and a lot of doing nothing.

At work, there has been chaos, and I chose not to get involved. Staff are leaving, transferring, and retiring. New young staff are being hired. They are old enough to be my children.

At home, my husband got a new job, our son announced he’d be moving to Australia by the end of the summer, and my daughter has a boyfriend.

So as my nest has emptied, I have watched other women fill their nests. I have crossed paths with more pregnant women this year than I can ever remember. I have purchased six copies of my standard baby gift, Your Child’s Health, a great reference book for parents. I have also crossed paths with pregnant birds.

This Canadian goose was in a median in a university parking lot. The poor dad goose was siting on the eggs and wouldn’t leave. Someone brought him a bowl of water. I ran out and brought back some tortillas for him to eat.

Image

At our neighborhood park there have been five Canadian Geese families that have taken over the pond.

So as to not feel left out, on my own back porch, a robin family made a nest one weekend when we were out of town.

The baby robins stick their heads up and all we can see are little beaks and necks.

Mama robin is very vigilant and busy hunting for food for the babies.

Nature took over and filled my nest again. I’ve had a perfect view of it all watching life unfold and still not doing anything…waiting for my next move.

Who loves you? I do

I’m an empty nester mother. Maybe my kids will send me a text this Sunday on Mother’s Day, if I’m lucky. But who said Mother’s Day is all about waiting for acknowledgement from your kids? I’ve never had the fairy tale, mushy thing going on anyway.

I wouldn’t  be a mom if it wasn’t for them right? So I decided to send my kids Mother’s Day cards. I went off to the store to check out the greeting card selection. I saw cards for godmothers, someone who has been like a mother to me, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, mothers-to-be, and friends.  Why wouldn’t they have a card to wish your kids a thank you  to have had the opportunity to be their Mom? Twenty-six years ago I wanted so much to be a mother. I wanted to be the best mom ever. I was given a gift that not every woman gets the privilege to experience.

So this is the card I chose. Who Loves You? I do. Because I wouldn’t be a Mom if I didn’t have you! Happy Mother’s Day to the best kids ever.  Call if what you like; reverse psychology, guilt-trip, whatever. A new tradition of expressing maternal love is born.

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?

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 is sick of Italian Chicken

 The fourth Italian Chicken dish I challenged myself to make is Chicken Cacciatore. It is a traditional, country-type Italian stew with cut-up chicken pieces, garlic, wine and leftover vegetables.
 
 
Take 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs with skins on and braise with olive oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top. After braising for 5 minutes on each side, set aside and remove the skin. Remove all but 1 TBSP of oil from the Dutch oven.
 
 
For the sauce, saute one minced onion, 1 tsp salt, 4 minced garlic and 6 oz of diced portabello mushrooms until soft.
 
 

Add 1/2 C chicken broth, 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 1/2 C dry red wine, 1 TBSP flour. After cooking over medium heat bring to a simmer and add 1 tsp thyme,  1 tsp ground sage, and the rind of parmesan cheese.

Add all the chicken pieces into the stew, then place in a 300 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked. Remove the parmesan rind before serving. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces and serve with a side of  fettucini or egg noodles.

What did the Fearless Cook learn?

Lesson #1

I don’t like red wine with chicken. It made the chicken meat red and such an unappealing color. The Chicken Marsala – my first Italian Chicken- was a little better because the chicken didn’t soak in the wine and tomato sauce. I took six pictures of the finished product and they all looked slimy and odd. I saved your eyes from viewing it.

Lesson #2

 The sauce was excellent, tasting like Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. It just didn’t go with the chicken. I wanted to eat that sauce with some beef. The recipe mentioned an alternative way to making the dish substituting white for red wine, white for portabello mushrooms and tarrogon for the thyme. Maybe I would’ve like it better with white wine, but I doubt it.

Lesson #3

I was so organized making this dish. I read the recipe in advance, prepped all the ingredients, and worked through each step smoothly. But I doubt if I’ll ever make this dish again.

Italian Chicken Finale

I have a little bit of pride completing this challenge.  I have plenty of tasks on my plate these days (pun intended), but I remained focused, despite the craziness swirling around me.  Ta dah!

Ranking the Italian Chickens

Most Favorite?  Chicken Piccata – I loved the lemon and capers. Easy and light dish.

Family Favorite? Chicken Parmesan – It was so popular I made it twice during this challenge.

Least Favorite? Chicken Cacciatore – Are you surprised?

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!

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.