O! Wyoming!

I got out of town to breathe some fresh air this past weekend.  My husband and I helped our son move into his new apartment with his first full-time job, which happens to be in Wyoming. He and his dad went up with the U-Haul the day before so I had the opportunity to ponder the landscape alone and reminisce over past memories of this big square state.

If my life was a tree, the state of Wyoming would be one of the branches. Wyoming is noted for cowboys, Old Faithful, and no state taxes. My Wyoming branch has its own set of interesting leaves.  

1. Wind.

Bar none the windiest state I’ve ever been in. You feel the whoosh the minute you hit the state line.

2. W.O.S.  Wide Open Spaces.

  • Stripped and ripped tire parts on the highway
  • Beauty of nature. Wildlife, mountain ranges, and a big blue sky.
  • Energy boom. Open pit coal mines, wind turbines, oil refineries, and natural gas. There is even a town named Sinclair, WY. You know the green dinosaur?
  • Country radio stations. The Ranch Breakfast Show on the local public radio station had me smiling as I was listening to cowboy tunes down the road. 

3. Commuter Student. 

I spent two years commuting to the University of Wyoming getting a post-masters degree with a rural focus. I know the faculty couldn’t believe that this city dweller drove 150 miles once a month for this program. But, the tuition was cheaper (thanks to WICHE) and the curriculum was perfect for me and my husband when the kids were in grade school. I also grew up in the rural midwest so it wasn’t such a stretch for me. One memory of my rural-focused eduation was that some Wyoming residents referred to long trips in the state as a “six pack drive”.

4. A red state with blue splotches.

Wyoming is a conservative state. I used to tell people that the only liberals in the state were in Laramie and Jackson Hole. During my time attending classes there, a gay student named Matthew Shepard was brutally killed because of his sexual orientation. It was extremely sad. The Laramie Project depicted interviews of the townspeople afterward. It debuted in 2000 as a stage play. It is now common educational reading in colleges on healing divisions and understanding the gay community.   

5. Eddie Rabbitt.

When I moved to Colorado in the 1980’s, my roommate took me to Cheyenne Frontier Days. We saw the rodeo, roamed around, and ate funnel cakes.  And when the sun went down the concert began and we saw Eddie Rabbitt. I actually had the fortune to see him in concert twice. Hey one of his songs was Rocky Mountain Music. It was my welcome to the West song.

6. Fond Friends.

We had great friend from Indiana, who spent a lot of summers working in Yellowstone or vacationing in the Big Horns. He saw it as summer camp and it kept him young. We met up with him half dozen times during his trips there. Everytime I think of Wyoming I think of Cowboy Cam hiking down the trail with his fishing pole.  I miss him so.

I wish fond memories for my son for his time in Wyoming, however long that will be. This is his time for his life tree to expand and grow. There are wide open opportunities in that sky.

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?

The one car couple

My husband and I are now empty nesters. Woo hoo! We raised our glasses and toasted that both our children have jobs and paychecks.  One just graduated from college and the other is halfway through. 

That is the good news. Here is the bad news. We have one vehicle.

So you ask….Why did you give away your cars to your children? They have jobs, they can buy their own vehicles?!

We decided, as a couple, that it would be easier, initially, for them to get on their way without any drama, to take the two cars and get to work. My husband and I are more flexible with working together and could share a vehicle.  And it is the summer and he makes a habit of biking to work several days a week.

Week One.  We drove in together on Monday.

 “Isn’t this nice? I really like spending the morning with you driving into work.”

After two days, “Didn’t I tell you? I need the car today, I have a business lunch.” 

 “What???” I replied, “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?” 

After the first day, the bond of driving in together was wearing thin.

Week Two. I decided I would take the bus on the days my husband needed the car. I have a co-worker who lives on my side of town and she was glad to teach me the ropes of the bus route.  So Monday morning I walk to the bus-stop for the 100 Express. I stand there proudly. I condensed my 4-5 bags I usually pack into my car, into a backpack and a water bottle to carry.  I’m standing there with another rider and then the 100 rolls up.

 I say to the rider “Have you seen the 100 Express?”

“Oh” he said, “it already came by.”  

Deflated, I walked back home and my spouse gave me a ride into work.  After work, I summoned my courage, to take the bus home. I can do it! This isn’t that hard! So I walk to the bus stop outside my place of work and luckily one of my patients is also waiting to take the same bus. He was so kind. He showed me how to transfer at the downtown bus station to pick up my transfer home. And I made it. I even read my Time magazine and completed a continuing education form.

I told my husband if this sharing a vehicle was going to work we would have to comunicate.  I announced I had a dinner date with the girlfriends on Wednesday and a hair appointment on Thursday after work.

 “Oh” he announced, “I have a dermatologist appointment on Thursday. ”

 “Oh”, I announced, “You need to reschedule because it is so hard for me to get an appointment and my hair is really in need of highlights and I have split ends.”

He was nice and cancelled his appointment.

Wednesday ended up being a disaster. My husband had originally agreed to ride his bicycle home, but life intervened. He had just got a call that day from a co-worker in another state that her spouse had been killed riding his bicycle. This devastated my husband, who, by the way, had a bicycle accident with a light pole last summer. I think the PTSD got stirred up like a bee hive. I told him I would come and get him at work and he could take me to the restaurant and I would get a ride home. Well the traffic was horrendous. What usually is a 15-20 minute drive to my husband’s work from mine, ended up being a one hour bumper to bumper drag. I left work at 5 pm, I got to the restaurant at 6:15p m and my husband got home at nearly 7 pm. Arrrrghhhh.

By the time Friday rolled around, he was feeling less stressed and biked to and from work. It was a good thing because I felt terribly ill with a headache and left work two hours early. I also had to pick the dog up from the groomers as well.

My husband and I are extremely independent people. As my husband says, “I don’t like depending on other people as they usually let me down. ”

Last Saturday we spent a large part of the day together, driving to look at a new car and driving to get new tires on our only vehicle. While waiting for the tires, we went to lunch together. When was the last time we did that? It was a lovely walk to lunch and back to the tire store.

Week Three. Much better, The week was planned, communication happened. I rode the bus home two days, he bicycled to work two days. We car-pooled to and from work Thursday because we had a dentist appointment at the same time, together. 

A shift has happened. We are talking to each other. My independent husband is learning to trust me again. We are taking a deep breath and realize we only have each other and the dog right now. We are rediscovering each other at mid-life sans children.  

I guess this empty nest thing might be good for us….until the grown child comes home to visit? Just as long as he doesn’ t stay long term.

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.

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!

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!