696 Months

How old is Little Junior, we ask the mother of a babe-in-arms. When a baby is small, their age is counted in weeks. She’s 2 weeks old, or he’s 6 weeks old, the proud mother replies. At some point it becomes months. Six months old or 9 months old or 13 months old. I think that ends at 2 years old, when the child’s age finally becomes measured in years.

It’s really a good thing, because it’s not nearly as adorable to tell you that we celebrated my sister Jen’s birthday on Monday, and she turned 696 months old. Nothing precious about that. But the birthday celebration was lots of fun, no matter how many months old she was.

I think Jen and I have celebrated each other’s birthdays together most of the years since she was born 696 months ago because we have lived close together most of our lives. It’s fun now because Bill and I are in Arizona in late December for my brother’s birthday  and in January for my sister Bec’s birthday, so now I’m able to celebrate with my whole family.

Hey, don’t laugh. Birthdays are big deals. I must admit, however, that unlike my grandkids – who will tell you that they are 7 and A HALF or 5 and A HALF, I am perfectly content to omit the half and keep my lower age for as long as I possibly can. You will never hear me tell a single solitary soul that I am 61-and-a-half.

And can I tell you that as much as I enjoy birthdays and birthday celebrations, is there anything more depressing than the day after your birthday? I mean, no gifts, the cake (should there be any left) is day-old and dried out, you find confetti lodged under your kitchen countertops, and you’re a year older. Sigh.

Having said all of that, let me tell you about our celebration.

Bill and I went to Fort Collins and cooked for Jen and her son B.J. at her house. As unlikely as it seems, I actually offered appetizers (something I’m notorious in my family for not remembering to do), and we toasted her birthday with champagne….

Jen birthday girl

….and no, not all three glasses were hers!

I had given her a selection of potential meals from which to choose. Explaining that she was currently on a French food kick (you know, French fries, French dressing, French toast), she chose Chicken au Champagne. I served it with haricot verts and a salad with a lovely sweet and tangy vinaigrette.  Ooo la la.

As for her birthday cake, she chose an angel food cake served with whipped cream and toffee chips. Despite Bill’s shock and horror that someone would choose something other than chocolate cake when given the option, he managed to choke down two pieces. Surprise, surprise…..

angel food cake

Chicken au Champagne (adapted from cookingwithcurls.com)

Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
4 – 6 chicken breasts or thighs (skin on, bone-in)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 large shallot, minced
1 c. Brut Champagne
2 T. butter
1 c. sliced mushrooms
2 T. chopped fresh tarragon
1 lemon

Process
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken to skillet, skin side down, and sear until golden brown, about 3 or4 minutes. Turn over and finish searing until other side is browned.

Remove chicken to a plate.

Add minced shallots to the pan and cook until they are softened, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and add the champagne. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all of the cooked bits. Place the chicken back into the pan, baste with the champagne sauce and place in the oven. Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until they are softened.

Remove chicken from the oven and add the sautéed mushrooms. Stir in the tarragon. Drizzle with the juice of a lemon.

Serve with noodles or mashed potatoes.

chicken au champagne

Nana’s Notes: I used a mixture of shitake and oyster mushrooms because that’s what I had in my refrigerator. I’m not fancy, but I had planned on making a meal last week that involved a mixture of wild mushrooms that never got prepared. Any kind of mushrooms will work. I suggest you don’t substitute white wine for the champagne as the flavor will not be the same and a mean Frenchman will come and slap you silly. However, don’t tell that Frenchman, but I didn’t use a French champagne; instead I used a sparkling wine. C’est la vie.

And, by the way, I will be turning 744 months on my next birthday, not even close to the 876 months Bill will be turning in a few weeks. 

Cooking With What You Got: Refrigerator Quiche

What you got…and what you don’t

By Beckie Borman

bec closeup twoMost nights my dinner consists of a bit of protein in the form of grilled meat or fish, and either veggies or a salad.  Besides the fact that it’s good for me (I think), it’s also a simple meal to prepare.  Occasionally, however, I don’t feel like eating the same old meal, so I begin to scrounge through my refrigerator to see “what I got” that I can use for dinner.  Many times, I land on the idea of a quiche.  Interestingly, at least to me, I don’t know that I ever made a quiche until a couple of years ago.  For some reason, I decided to make one for myself, and the rest is history!  One of the things I like about quiche is that there are as many variations as there are leftovers in my frig.

So, the other evening I was searching for a meal idea and noticed that I had one ready-made pie crust that needed to be used or discarded.  “Quiche!”  I thought.   I always have eggs and milk on hand.  That night, I had a carton of heavy cream with an upcoming expiration date.  I usually keep a small sliced ham for breakfasts and for flavoring soups or vegetables.  The recipe I use calls for Swiss cheese, which I didn’t have, but I had a little bit of shredded parmesan, as well as a small piece of a random cheese left over from…something.  I tasted it and determined that it would work well with the parm. I like mushrooms in quiche, but I didn’t have any.  However, I had a few spears of cooked asparagus from a previous dinner, so that would do as well.  Yes, I had all the makings of a yummy and easy dinner.

I pulled out all the ingredients, measured them up, and went to the back room to get a pie plate.  Hmmm…not where I expected it to be.  After a bit of searching I realized that both my pie plates were at my son Erik’s house, where we had recently celebrated a holiday feast.  Fortunately, it’s only a 15-minute round trip to his house, so I was able to buzz over and retrieve my plates.

Although quiche is a quick dish to throw together, it does have a long baking time.  But for me it’s always worth the wait.  I can enjoy a big slice for dinner and have plenty left over for future breakfasts and lunches.  Because another great thing about quiche is that you really can eat it any any time of the day.

My advice, however, is that before you assemble your ingredients, make sure you have something to bake them in!

quiche image

Here is Beckie’s Basic Quiche Recipe….

Quiche jpg

Orange You Glad It’s Not Last Sunday?

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In happier days — early in the season….

I watched the Broncos’ 2014-2015 season come to a sad end on Sunday with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was sad to see them go out in such inglorious fashion. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have to dye my onion dip orange on Super Bowl Sunday.

See? A silver lining. Remember my New Years’ goal to look at life in a more positive way?

I’m positive my Broncos couldn’t possibly have looked worse. Both sides of the ball, really.

Poor Peyton.  If I feel bad, imagine how he must feel. He is so competitive, and for much of the season he was riding a wave of grandeur, breaking records, and winning ball games handily. Suddenly, somewhere after the first half of the season, he began looking like an old man. Paw Paw Peyton. He can’t help it. It happens to the best of us, and earlier when you have to be able to handle being chased around by 300-lb. linemen and still toss a ball down field. And then be slammed to the ground. I limp when I get out of bed in the morning.

I’m really not devastated by the Broncos’ loss on Sunday. I’m pretty sure – being my mom’s daughter – that they would have been crushed by the Patriots next Sunday. Better to get it over with sooner rather than later. And I actually like the Colts a great deal. In particular, I like Andrew Luck, who I think is extremely talented and a classy football player. Much like Peyton Manning.

So more power to them. With any luck, it will be a Packers-Colts Super Bowl, and for me that would be win-win as I like both teams.

No, it’s not the Broncos’ loss that is making me sad. It’s watching the football season come to an end. Less than three weeks from now I will be facing a Sunday without football. No Phil Simms trying oh-so-hard to act like he doesn’t hate the Broncos. No dithering Chris Collinsworth. No Bob Costas, who always looks like he’s ready to cry. (Maybe I just can’t get past the red-eye thing he had going on during the Olympics). No Tony Dungy, who is so smart about football, so extremely nice, and so astonishingly homely.

I will be waiting all day for Sunday night. But then nothing will happen.

Well, except for Downton Abbey, which has even more drama than the Jay Cutler-Chicago Bears saga.

So I will enjoy the games for the next couple of weeks, rooting for the good guys and booing the bad guys. And then we will all move on to the remainder of the regularly scheduled programs.

The hardest part is going to be remaining silent about my feelings regarding Tom Brady and the Patriots. A team Broncos fans love to hate, but a team my 5-year-old grandson Joseph – a New Englander  through and through – loves to love.

So, instead of worrying, let’s eat. A Facebook friend posted this recipe she retrieved from the Facebook page of a woman named Cheryle Pestana, who appears to FB mostly about food. I tried to find her blog, but she doesn’t appear to have one.

taco casserole

The directions make it sound complicated. Just layer however you want. The dish was delicious, and almost better reheated the next day.

Mexican casserole uncut

Mexican casserole cut

 

The Perfect Food

Before we were married, while Bill was still a bachelor, he lived in an old historic Denver Square near downtown. It had a beautiful contemporary kitchen, which HE NEVER USED. NOT ONCE.

What he did do was call Nicolo’s Pizza regularly, probably at least six times a week. When his kids were with him (they were teenagers at the time), they might order pizza twice a day. They would probably have ordered it for breakfast too if it had been open. Because I assure you, they couldn’t have leftover pizza for breakfast. There never was any left over.

In fact, one of the funniest stories about Bill’s and my courtship was when I came over for dinner soon after we started dating. It was a Friday night, his kids were visiting, and so, of course, we ordered pizza. The boxes were delivered and we went to the television room where they always ate. It was one of the first times I spent any time at all with his kids.

“How many pieces are you going to eat?” Heather asked me before the box was even opened.

Huh?

“Well, I don’t really know,” I responded tentatively, unsure if this was some sort of test. Was there a right or wrong answer?  “It depends.”

“Hmmm,” she said. Apparently there was, and I had answered incorrectly.

In actuality, she was being kind, as Heather ALWAYS is. She wanted to make sure I would get enough pizza, because once they were told “Go!” it was no holds barred. One could lose a finger. She wanted to make sure they set aside enough pieces for me.

I believe that was the same occasion that his son Dave took two pieces of pizza, and put a third piece of pizza between the other two, thereby making a pizza sandwich. Bill put a kibosh to that very quickly.

All this is to say that we take pizza very seriously. And it is causing a rift in my family, Friends.

My brother Dave insists – INSISTS – that I should make Friday Pizza Day on Nana’s Whimsies. At first he strongly suggested I eliminate the whole Friday Book Whimsy idea completely and replace it with Friday Pizza Whimsy. Who would read a book when they could eat a pizza, he apparently wonders.

I told him that there are people who LIKE my book reviews.

“Hmpfff,” he said. “But I bet they like pizza more.”

Dave shows he's got skillz by tossing the pizza in the air as he readys it for the pan.

Dave shows he’s got skillz by tossing the pizza in the air as he readys it for the pan.

Once I convinced him that I wasn’t willing to do away with my Friday Book Whimsy (the blog, after all, is called Nana’s Whimsies and not Pops’ Whimsies), he has moved on to suggesting that I review pizza places each Friday. This is all based on his notion that Friday is Pizza Day in everyone’s mind. He went so far, in fact, as having his daughter Jessie, who works at a grocery store that sells freshly baked pizza, begin counting the number she rings up so that she can compare Friday’s pizza sales to other days’. The jury is still out, though he insists he’s right. In the meantime, his daughter’s boss has suggested Jessie quit placing pizzas into people’s carts on Fridays without their consent.

And, I must admit that I love the idea of doing a pizza review on a regular basis. However, I reminded him that I have a world-wide audience (I have a committed reader who lives in Brazil!) who don’t care if Oregano’s Pizza in Gilbert, Arizona, is good when they live in Omaha, Nebraska.

Any suggestions?

In the meantime, my sister-in-law told me about a recipe she read for a pizza crust that involved two simple ingredients – Greek yogurt and self-rising flour. So I invited Dave and Sami over for pizza (though it was Sunday and not Friday).

pizza crust ingredients

kneading pizza dough

dough rolled out

pizza

Our conclusion? A home run. Or at least a triple. I might add a bit of salt to the dough, even using self-rising flour. And I might sprinkle the pan with corn meal, because I think that adds a lot of flavor. But the result was surprisingly good. And so simple to do. We even caught my brother-the-baker flipping the dough in the air.

Two item pizza

 

Forge Ahead into 2015

Maggie, Lilly, and Mark await the whistle for dinner to begin.

Maggie, Lilly, and Mark await the whistle for dinner to begin.

On New Year’s Day, the talk turned – as it was bound to – to resolutions. Did you make any? What are they? Do you keep them? And so forth.

I heard my share of “eating healthier” and “staying on a budget” and I also heard a few “I don’t make resolutions because I don’t keep them anyway.”

I’m generally in the camp of “I certainly do make resolutions but I don’t keep them anyway.” Sigh.

So this year I’m trying to look at them more along the lines of better ways to live my life day-to-day than setting myself up for failure by proclaiming big and important but unrealistic resolutions for the whole year.

Every day I should spend more time praying. I should spend less time in the afternoon watching Foyle’s War and more time doing something more constructive like cleaning or cooking or reading. I read 20 fewer books in 2014 than I did in 2013, and I’m determined to turn that around. Not because it’s some kind of a contest since no one knows but me, but because it’s better for my brain. I want to be demonstratively more generous – pick an amount and give that amount each month to a charity that God will reveal to me. Looking at life from a more positive perspective will make my life better, and also Bill’s. It is critical to Bill’s health (and mine as well) that we get back into a routine of regular exercise, something that had become more hit-and-miss in the past month-and-a-half. Wasting food is a sin, or so the nuns told us, and it costs money. So I will take greater care to use leftovers. Finally, and this one will be difficult, I will try to stay away from sex and violence in films, television, and books. I’m not a prude, nor will I be crazy about it, but I will avoid it when I can. Like, no How to Get Away With Murder this next go-around.

Jessie and Kacy were born princesses and remain princesses still...

Jessie and Kacy were born princesses and remain princesses still…

And, of course, drink more water. Or at least some water. Sigh again.

Now that I have publicly confessed to those goals, I want to tell you just how much fun we had on New Year’s Day. I have said it before and I will say it again. If you give a party, they will come. My family, I mean. Of course, a 7-bone prime rib is a good draw, but still, I’m fairly certain I could have offered salami sandwiches and had nearly as many folks at my dinner table. We like to gather as family. And the little cousins like to play together. The 45-degree temperatures didn’t stop them from playing outside like I thought it might. In Colorado, kids are wearing shorts when it’s 45 degrees; in Arizona, they are in sweats. But they spent most of the day outside.

Our house is small, but we pushed together three tables and were able to have a cooked prime 2015somewhat haphazard sit-down dinner table. The prime rib was cooked perfectly, and because of its sheer size, it took a while for Bill to carve it. Plus, he needed to keep pushing fingers away from snitchers. Mine included.

Kacy’s daughter Lexi Eve turned 2 on New Year’s Day, so in addition to an meat piled high 2015amazing chocolate brownie trifle made by Maggie, we had birthday cake. There simply is nothing cuter than seeing the face of a child being sung Happy Birthday to. They either smile or cry. In Lexi’s case, she loved being the center of attention. Being on Mommy’s lap helped, especially since that brand new baby sister was down for a nap.

I am looking forward to a wonderful 2015, and if I can make my goals last a month, I will be doing about two weeks better than last year.

Now I’m going to go get a glass of water.

Leftover Prime Rib with Pasta. Yum.

Leftover Prime Rib with Pasta. Yum.

By the way, here is a wonderful recipe that used the remains of the prime rib. Thank you to sparkpeople.com for the delicious recipe…..

 

 

 

 

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Predicting the Unpredictable

wreathesFor the most part, I live a very quiet life – the life of a 60-something retired person. Predictable and nonstressful, and definitely not funny.

Every once in a while, God throws some kinks into my life just to keep me on my toes. That happened to me last week.

It all started the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, while having lunch with Court. Our server brought the bill to our table. I opened up my billfold and couldn’t help but notice a big empty space WHERE MY CREDIT CARD SHOULD BE.

“Do you remember where you used the card last?” Court asked calmly, trying to prevent me from full-out panic.

I did. The day before, I had gone to Toys R Us to pick up a package I had ordered. I paid with the credit card. There had been a lot of excitement as another shopper had been hungrily looking at the Zoomer Dino that I was buying. Zoomer Dinos are apparently going to be one of those “Cabbage Patch Doll” phenomenons this year. (Baby Boomers will remember the Cabbage Patch craze and how parents and grandparents were tearing dolls out of other people’s hands in toy stores in the 1980s.) I was prepared to take the lady to the floor for the Zoomer Dino if necessary. It didn’t happen, but I was distracted nonetheless.

So when I noted the absence of my card, I suspected Toys R Us immediately. Particularly since after leaving Toys R Us that day, my car once again wouldn’t start. Same issue as the previous week that, almost $700 later, the car service people told me they had fixed but clearly hadn’t. I called Bill, who told me what cables I needed to jiggle and voila!, the car started.( I love being nearly 61 and having to start my car by opening up the hood and jiggling cables. I feel like I’m back in college.)

The credit card story has a happy ending, though, because when I went back to Toys R Us, the nice young man who had helped me the day before was delighted to see me. He said he had chased after me upon realizing I left my card on the counter, but couldn’t see what car I was getting into. He clearly disregarded the possibility that it could be the yellow bug with the hood up and the owner madly jiggling cables. He had placed the card in the store safe, and before long, it was back in the little space in my billfold.

But the blimps in my life weren’t over yet.

The next day (which was the day before Thanksgiving), I was – yes, I’m afraid I must tell you this – doing my last last shop before the holiday. I remembered that morning that I had thrown my old turkey baster away long ago as it was cracked. There were also a few odds and ends that I could have lived without, but as long as I was going to the store, well…..

Before even entering the store, I spotted lovely evergreen wreathes. I put two particularly pretty ones in my basket. I proceeded to do the rest of my shopping. Now, I prefer to leave my shopping cart at the end of the aisle rather than trying to maneuver it between carts in the narrow space. I did so, and picked up maybe six or seven other things. I put them in my cart and went to the check stand to pay.

The lines were predictably long, so I settled in to wait my turn. I began thinking about how lovely my wreathes were, and looked down at them. Unfortunately, rather than seeing two pretty evergreen wreathes, I instead saw a variety of wholly unfamiliar items, including two or three sacks of sweet potatoes.

Whaaaaat?

I suddenly realized what had happened. I had inadvertently confiscated someone else’s basket. I immediately worked my way past the people behind me in line. “Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me,” I said to several quite unfriendly shoppers.

When I got to the back of the store where I had last seen my buggy, I saw a very distraught woman who was speaking with great angst to two store employees. “I really, really don’t want to have to start over with my shopping,” she was saying.

I admitted the error of my ways and apologized profusely. She, I’m happy to say, couldn’t have been nicer. It had happened to her before, as it has to many of us. And there was my very own cart with the two evergreen wreathes.

But I’m not quite finished with my tale.

I took my groceries out to the car, and filled my trunk. I began to roll my cart over to the cart stand. As I neared the stand, suddenly the cart’s wheels froze. I tried backing up. Nothing. I tried rolling forward. Nothing. They were firmly stuck in place.

I recalled the signs on the shopping carts that tell you not to take the carts beyond the parking lot as they wheels won’t roll. I never actually believed them. I’m here to tell you that it’s true, my friends. Never mind that I wasn’t even close to being out of the parking lot. In fact, I was only about 10 feet from the cart stand. I must admit I simply abandoned the cart. I blame it on Google.

Aside from realizing on Thanksgiving morning that I had accidentally purchased a 19 lb. turkey instead of a 15 lb. turkey to feed the six people at my Thanksgiving table, everything else went as smooth as silk. As for the 19 lbs. of turkey, after sending home leftovers with my guests, there was only enough turkey left for one more meal….turkey pot pies.

Turkey Pot Pie (2)

Turkey Pot Pie 3

Big Night

Kris timpano 2014Back in 1996, there was a critically-well-received movie – called Big Night –that featured two brothers from the Abruzzo region of Italy who were trying to make a go of an Italian-American restaurant someplace in New Jersey, but were failing miserably. I have spoken before in this blog about the difference in food you eat in Italy and its Italian-American counterpart. Well, in the story, the brother who was the chef wanted to continue to make truly Italian food, but the other brother – who ran the business – saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that to be successful, they were going to have to change their cooking ways and begin offering the kinds of Italian cooking Americans want. Drama (and clever comedy) ensues.

Enough said about the plot (it’s a wonderful movie; you should rent it sometime if you can find it), but a featured event in the movie – and the single thing people who watched the movie still talk about — was the chef/brother’s (played by Tony Shalhoub) preparation of something traditionally called a timballo in Italy, but referred to as a timpano in the movie.

I had come across this domed pasta masterpiece before via Bec’s daughter Kate who had sent her mom a photo years ago and basically said, “I don’t know what this is, but I think you should make it sometime.”

That was a bunch of years ago, but it has been on my mind since. To illustrate this fact,timpano bowl please note that last winter I bought a timpano bowl (which I show here with a wine bottle in it so that you can see how large it is, 15 inches to be exact), with the intention of trying my hand at preparing a timpano.

A timpano is a domed (shaped like timpani drums) pasta extravaganza. It is literally layer after layer of everything you like at an Italian restaurant wrapped in a layer of pasta and baked. It is, as you can imagine, massive, but oh-so-beautiful when it emerges from the oven and you turn it over onto a platter and it sliced open. Abbondanza!

So I have been waiting for just the right time to prepare said timpano. It is, after all, enormous, so it had to be for a large number of people. Also, it is such a, well, thing, to prepare because of all of the various layers and kinds of food that goes into it, so it wouldn’t be anything I would want to prepare all by myself. Such an opportunity never seemed to present itself.

But leave it to my sister Jen to make it happen.

She is here in AZ visiting and it became apparent that Sunday was going to be a day when all of the female family members were going to be spouseless. Golf, football, and/or NASCAR had claimed all of the male members for the day. A gathering of the estrogen crowd seemed in order.

“Let’s do a timpano!” she cried.

“Yikes,” I responded. It seemed an overwhelming amount of work. And an overwhelming amount of food for our gathering of nine women and a scattering of kids.

But upon further research and a great deal of discussion, we decided it would be doable if we made a simplified version. Store-bought marinara, frozen meatballs, etc., and wrapped in store-bought pizza dough instead of homemade pasta dough.

Food Network chef Sandra Lee would call it semi-homemade, but then she would go off to make a matching tablescape, something we did not do. Wouldn’t happen. Not that day. Not any day.

But back to the timpano.

We followed a recipe, but we used it only as a guideline. As I said, while the traditional timpano is lined with a homemade pasta dough, we chose to line it instead with pizza dough, and storebought (from the can) at that.

Then we commenced to begin layering – a layer of cooked ziti in a marinara sauce, a layer of cooked Italian sausage, a layer of mozzarella cheese, a layer of meatballs, a layer of grated pecorino cheese, some beaten egg over it all, a layer of tomato sauce. Repeat. Your bowl is filled.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour-and-a-half, then remove from the oven and let it sit until you can no longer stand to not see what it looks like. Turn it over onto a very large platter, and then commence patting yourself on the back. It’s beautiful. Especially when you cut it open.

And it’s delicious. Remember how I said it was going to be too much food. Well, nope. We didn’t eat the entire thing, but food was taken home, allegedly for the spouses, but I can’t confirm there wasn’t some midnight snacking. My niece is nine months pregnant, after all.

Here is a link to the recipe. The recipe is complicated as the author makes the marina, meatballs and pasta dough from scratch. I’m going to do that someday, but in the meantime, we had a delicious Italian extravaganza and a lot of fun to boot.

Here’s some photos….

I'm preparing the pizza dough in the bowl.

I’m preparing the pizza dough in the bowl.

Layer after layer of goodness.

Layer after layer of goodness.

Out of the oven. We're just about to begin the unveiling, and required everyone to knock on the bowl for good luck. Not an Italian tradition!

Out of the oven. We’re just about to begin the unveiling, and required everyone to knock on the bowl for good luck. Not an Italian tradition!

Jen and Bec begin the unveiling....

Jen and Bec begin the unveiling….

timpano 2014

Voila!

Nana’s Notes: Our pizza layer was VERY THIN, and because of this, perhaps a bit overcooked in the oven. I think if I was going to do it again and still didn’t want to make homemade pasta, I would make the pizza dough a bit thicker so that it totally encased the pasta.