Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are we there yet??

Nothing like knowing there are new layoffs on the horizon to make me relive the fears of August '07 when I got my pink slip two days before we were leaving for a vacation to Vegas.

It was not the best trip.

All worked out well, in the end, I fell right into the new gig. But yeah, at new gig, we're facing our third round of layoffs in as many quarters.

The past week I've been living in the fear that I'd somehow get notice my job is done just a few days before the trip. I'm going to be really, really surprised if I remain after this round since we've already made deep cuts, and even though we're SUPER busy right now, these things always come at the most illogical times. Well, not always, but a lot of the time. I can only hang on to a small glimmer of hope that knowing we have to re-document a completely new interface for our next release will acknowledge my right to exist at work.

But today, all I could think about was the blackjack table on the last trip... I happened to be sitting with a few ladies who were there for a "women in construction" conference and they were all from Louisiana. They'd each lost at least one home during Katrina, and they had just faced another hurricane the week before, and were headed home to face another that was expected to hit the region. Their overall attitude.... "Smoke 'em while you got 'em."


I hope that the layoffs do come after Easter, as my boss suspects (and he's high up... he'd have known if they were upon us very very very soon - I hope) and we can take our trip, throw some money into the economy and have a good time. Because things are good right now. And if they do go bad... we've been there before... more than once... and we'll get through it.

But for now, I hope I can leave work tomorrow and pretend that all is normal and go on vacation on Thursday with blissful thoughts of some time away from work and some fun in Sin City.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Nights of Italian and No-Knead Bread

Apparently I felt like Italian food this weekend.

Well, I had errands yesterday, so that pretty much always means "shrimp pasta" for dinner since it's easy and quick.

But the forecast for today was for snow, and some good, warm, Italian comfort food sounded really good.

I really wanted lasagna, but making a huge pan of lasagna seemed a little like overkill, especially since we leave for Vegas on Thursday morning. Meatballs in sauce were close enough.

I also figured since we'd likely be shut-ins on Sunday, it'd be a good chance to do something I've wanted to try for a long time.... No-Knead Bread.

Apparently it's so easy a four year old can do it, but I still thought this 30-something woman would find a way to mess it up. I don't have good luck with bread. Every venture I've made to make my own yeast-based bread has resulted in a disaster.

The dry goods, measured out.....

Mix those together, add warm water...

And mix until a lumpy mess forms.

Lumpy mess, achieved!

This lumpy mess got covered with plastic and I stuck it in the laundry room (hey, it's not drafty and counter space is at a premium in my kitchen. And I still had to make dinner).

After that, on to the shrimp pasta.

Sliced garlic, tomato confit, chopped parsley, peeled shrimp, and my pameganio-reggiano butter, at the ready....

Melted the butter, added a splash of wine, then added the garlic and let that come to a gentle simmer before I threw in the shrimp to pretty much poach.

Parsley and tomato only have to be added at the end so they warm through.....

Dump in some (apparently very broken, didn't know that until I started cooking it) pasta and let it go for a minute on the heat, and dinner is served.

After dinner, I went to check on my lumpy mess....

Well, it's at least starting to do bread-like things.....

I woke up this morning and damnit... the weather dudes were all right... snow. Lots of it. Lots of heavy snow.


At least we're looking at 70s while we're in Vegas. It looks like the nicest day is going to be Thursday, so we might even have to do a presto-chango before we check our luggage at the hotel to break out the shorts.

Oh well. Trapped at home today. We were lucky... lots in the area were without power.

Time to make the meatballs!

Pound and a half of sausage, pound and a half of ground beef, an egg, romano cheese, oregano, breadcrumbs. Man, I love the stand mixer for mixing meat.

My key to tender meatballs... the bread/milk mixture. I only added about half of what I whipped up.

After rolling, meatballs go into my mini muffin tins and come out 20 minutes later, cooked and lovely...

Time for a bath in the sauce! Just Prego with some sliced garlic added. Oh, and a splash of wine.

That got to simmer away in the slow cooker while I cleaned, packed, cleaned, and occasionally stopped to pay some video poker on my training program.

Time to pay attention to the bread dough again....

I took this very, VERY sticky mess and tried to form it into something resembling a loaf, but that did not really happen. I think my dough was a little more wet that it should have been. Ooops.

Plopped it into a bowl to rise for another two hours...

After two hours, into my heated Le Creuset pot and into the oven....

Yes, I am aware of the fact it looks kinda like a dough turd.

Halway though baking, remove the lid...

.... aaaand if you're a kitchen klutz like me, put a couple of pot holders on the lid so you don't accidentially go to grab it. I've learned that about myself....

After another 20 minutes, I pulled the loaf out....

A little more odd-shaped than I wanted, and I will admit I did quickly run downstairs to grab a loaf of store-bought bread (stunt bread!) to throw into the hot oven to thaw out.

By this time, meatballs were more than ready...

Cooked up my pasta, made a couple of spinach salads, all while listening to the neat snap-crackle-pop of the bread cooling.

With a deep sigh, I cut into my loaf of bread, expecting disaster....

Crap! It actually, well, looks like bread!

And it tasted like bread too!

I made bread! I really, really made a loaf of actually good bread!

So, yes. So easy a four year old can do it, and apparently a bread-challenged 30-something year old can't mess up. A ringing endorsement.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Going Back/Going Home

Everybody knows I've seen a lot, yeah I'm experienced.
Makes you feel so old after a while, just like our president.

Every time I come back in this town I know

That I finally know the difference between going back and going home.

I was one of those kids that was pretty much "18 and Out" from the town I grew up in. I turned 18, went off to school in the city, and didn't really even look in the rear view mirror to watch the old neighborhood fade back. Sure, I went back home for important things like holidays and to do laundry and have a place to crash when bands were coming through town that I wanted to go see, but it's been a LONG time since I considered that my home.

Where I grew up was just outside the city of Chicago, but growing up, I considered it the suburbs. My husband, who grew out WAY in the suburbs (like, the people where we'd pack snacks in the car when we were going to visit them when I was kid, even though you can still see the Sears Tower on a clear day out here).

During my last year in college, my parents moved out of the house my dad had grown up in to move further out into suburbia. The club I'd been going to for years to see bands also closed (owner wanted to retire and people had been offering him loads of money for years for the land, could hardly blame him) there just wasn't a good reason to go back there much.

And after the butcher who made the awesome Italian sausage closed.... well, there wasn't much of any reason to head back there.

But I was back there today for the unhappy occasion of a wake. I decided to take a drive through the old neighborhood.

Was the area so dumpy when I lived there?

Butchers... turned into a "title loans" place. Old Taco Bell, turned into a now-closed actual Mexican taco joint. Old bowling alley, turned into a church. Old church, still there. Grade school, middle school and junior high, all looking way smaller than I remember.

I left the wake around dinner time, and knew there was one place that was dumpy looking while I was still living there, but was still much beloved.

Gene & Judes.

It's all you need to say to get me salivating.

It's been about ten years since I've had a hot dog from there, so a trip was more than overdue.

It's right next to a river. That floods a lot. A LOT. The place has been half-underwater several times, and it is constructed out of sturdy stone, brick and tile that can be cleaned with some bleach water.

But people would probably wade through waist-high water to eat at the place. Seriously.

No frills. They have hotdogs, fries, corn roll tamales and sodas. End of menu. It's all they need.

Sadly, the ice cream place that used to share the parking lot is no longer there. But at least it means more parking spaces for the hot dog stand.

Have I mentioned that there is not a DROP of ketchup to be had in this place? Like, not even for fries?

It might be one reason the hubby could never stand the place.

And while the hot dog in the picture above looks great and the HAND CUT (really, the put the whole potatoes thru a fry cutter and they're in oil about a minute later) fries look all crispsy, the wrap it all up in one nice, neat little package. And no ketchup = we always ate them at home because we wanted fries at least for our ketchup, so I'm used to it all becoming a lovely, soggy mess by the time I ate. Because to get home, you had to pass over two sets of train tracks and would often get stuck by both. Sometimes for like an hour. In the days before cell phones. While just trying to make a hot dog run. But it was always worth it.

I panicked in line a little bit.... been so long since I've been there that I'd forgotten the "lingo" of how to place your order... but I remembered quick. And I laughed like everyone else when the dude in front of me asked about lettuce. Dude... this place has NEVER seen a single lettuce leaf.

I got my order of three hot dogs, a tamale, and some extra fries (all for under ten bucks) and stowed my goodies in my thermal lunch tote, and headed home. Which only took about 40 minutes on all surface streets.

Yeah, the fries were soggy. And by that point, there are just some fries you cannot pull off the hot dog without making a mess of the whole thing. But it is part of the beauty.

We sat down (with ketchup... I looked aside as the hubby soiled his hot dog with ketchup... I like some hot dogs with ketchup, but not these) and ate... I wish I'd gotten like five more. Man, was it good. And it was nice to have that moment with the hubby, watching The Office and 30 Rock.

There are nice things about going back, but it's nice when you can bring "back" to "home" and enjoy it there.

Lyrics courtesy of "Going Back/Going Home" by Butch Walker, Image yoinked from TimeOutChicago.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Store-Bought Roasted Chicken

I know (at least thanks to Thomas Keller's high-heat roasted chicken) that it is not hard to roast a chicken.

But being a busy, typical American housewife who works 40+ hours a week, I do sometimes enjoy the ease of a Store-Bought Roasted Chicken.

Sue me.

I do have problems with the prices some people charge, but at least at the produce/deli place I go to, they are pretty cheap. I paid $4.50 for the most recent one I purchased.

But where did all the chicken go??

People.... one thing that us Americans have gotten WAY too used to is waste. I've been to stores around here that offer the same sized roasted chicken for eight bucks. EIGHT BUCKS. To me, that is a nice lunch at Roly Poly with a regular sized rolly and some soup and a drink. Which is usually my Friday "treat".

I took the meat off the chicken, diced it up, and some of it will be chicken salad for a chicken salad pita for me to lunch tomorrow. The rest of the chicken will either be used by the hubsy tomorrow night, or I'll throw it in the freezer for a lazy day.

The skin and bones of the chicken went into a freezer bag right away, and they'll be used to make some stock at a later point in time. So for my $4.50.... or even EIGHT BUCKS.... I'll get a couple of meals and about two quarts of homemade chicken stock. I couldn't get two "eat out" meals and two quarts of store-bought stock for that price. And neither is as good.

It makes me sad, to think of people that just throw away those bones. Stock ain't hard. Throw the bones and the veggies that are about to go south in the crock pot, cover with water, add some bay leaves and herbs and pepper, and let it go for 8 hours. The hardest thing is draining it. And it's all so worth it.

Trust me... since I started doing work for my old company and having an Actual Billable Amount For My Work Per Hour, I understand the concept that some things are worth your time to pay others to do. It's the American way. But one thing we have forgotten.... make the most of what you have. Think back to your own mother and how she'd manage to stretch out the turkey from Thanksgiving, or the ham from Easter. It was there... best to USE it and not just toss it in the trash.

/end ranty rant

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chicken Wings Redeaux....

Usually, I don't like to repeat a recipe so soon after I make it the first time. But the last time I made chicken wings, there just weren't enough for us. We both wanted more.

Yes, I mixed them up with the sauce in my Le Creuset. It was already on the stove top and easier than getting out my big glass bowl (which is usually full of the rest of the bowls that nest in it).

I had 8 wings, the hubby was trying to kill an even dozen, but he only made it as far as 10 before he surrendered. Note to self... need about 20 wings on a weeknight. I'm sure on a weekend dinner (hubby doesn't eat as big of a lunch, if he has one at all, on the weekend) I'd probably need a few more than that.

Comfort food was a good thing today. Found out that an old family friend passed away (although to make it to 90 and go while sitting peacefully in your favorite chair is a pretty good way to go). But it does make me sad... he's been a part of my family's life since long before I was born, was one of those people that you called "grandpa" even though there was no blood relation (and I've had gladly traded the blood-related grandfather and step-grandfather that I did know for him). Also found out we've still got MORE job cuts coming at work. Man, this economy is the pits.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Today is International Odd Shaped Pancake Day

(Ok... not really, but thinking that makes me feel a little better about the odd pancake shapes I produced in the kitchen today)

I mean, c'mon.... how hard is it to get a friggin' round pancake? It was not a shining night in the kitchen for me.

Round #2 was looking a little bit better until my mad flipping skillz.....

At least by the last three, I was able to get some somewhat-pancake-looking-like-pancakes.

In addition to pancakes, we had eggs and bacon for dinner.

And cooking a pound of bacon mean leftover bacon fat.

And leftover bacon fat means - Spinach Salad With Bacon Dressing time!

Since I totally was not planning on making this for lunches this week, I didn't buy any red onion. But I have a lot of shallots, so I decided to start by chopping up a salad and adding that to the dressing.

Red wine vinegar...

Add the sugar...

Some dijon mustard....

Three lovely tablespoons of bacon fat....

Some pepper....

Put the lid on....

And shake shake shake until you get a nice, combined dressing.

I still have to cut up mushrooms to go along with my salad, and I already have some hard-boiled eggs, so it'll just be a matter of throwing everything in my lunch bag tomorrow and assembly at lunch.

It'll be nice to have a day where I can look forward to lunch. Actually been busy at work, and I've been looking at so many technical drawings lately (or rather, trying to make technical drawings look more like the real thing so you can actually tell what you're looking at) that I was actually in the washroom today, looking at the stall door, and thinking about how it would look as a technical drawing with the types of hinges and types of screws....

Yeah. I need a vacation.

Happily, we leave for Vegas next Thursday, so it's not too far off. Even if I am slightly panicked right now because I'm not 90% packed like I usually am at this point before a trip. Might try to make a dent in that before the night is done.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Messy Food

Why is messy food, or even hands-on-food, always so good?

My mindset was all about the messy food today. Probably because yesterday was a day deprived of water flow, as the ENTIRE day was consumed with what has become known as The Great Water Heater Replacement of 2009.

Yeah, a month ago, the hubby was supposed to tackle this project. Every weekend since then, there has been an excuse to not do it. This weekend, he finally got around to it.

What.... that's not the bling that every housewife dreams of??

The water heater that replaced was the original that was put it when this house was built... it was 20 years old. I'm surprised it was still working at all.

The father-in-law came over and I knew enough to get out of the house (I was also still waiting for the second cup of coffee to totally kick in... if you get my meaning... and wanted to at least be somewhere that had a working toilet) so I went to Costco.

While I was coming back, the hubby and father in law were already headed out to Home Depot Trip Number Two.

They did get the old water heater uninstalled with no problems, but there were "issues" since the new water heater is a different size (not capacity, just different height) then the old water heater. Whatever. I headed out and picked up sandwiches for lunch, and waited.

Aaaaaand then it all went badly.

When you buy anything other than a new house, you should expect to run into some problems. When you buy a place that is 20 years old, you should expect that every renovation or replacement will mean at least 5 more problems than you imagined. The problem this time was the pipes that lead to the water heater started leaking. It was 2pm by that point. We called Roto-Rooter. They said it'd be two hours.

At 4pm, the called and said they were running really behind (apparently a lot of plumbing problems must have happened yesterday) and they'd be another two hours.

At six, they said it'd be another hour.

He did finally show up about 7pm. It took about an hour for him to get it all fixed. But $350 later, the problem was no longer a problem.


Then was the fun of me frantically switching out the batteries in the carbon monoxide detectors before the hubby turned the gas to the water heater back on, and the LONG process of trying to get the thing lit. It took like 20 minutes.

I also learned that I need to let my technical writer self relax a bit when reading off the manual instructions for things that involve fire + gas... when I was reading a particular badly worded sentence and made a face and said "WOW... that's bad" I kinda panicked the hubby. Sorry, hubby! You look at and judge the workmanship of signs all the time, I make faces at bad instructions.

I was smart enough to take a shower in the morning but the hubby hadn't, so he took a long, hot, well-deserved shower before we settled down for the night.

So, today was just all about the thoughts of messy food, the stuff where you need to wash your hands, your face, your clothes and the surfaces below where you are off.

The original thought was chicken wings. But, then I saw the produce/deli place actually had head-on shrimp on sale for four bucks a pound.

Oh yeah. Sigh me up for some Barbecue Shrimp, please!

The mixed up sauce....

I doubled the sauce recipe, since I wanted plenty for dunking some bread. I also omitted the rosemary... the hubby is not a rosemary fan. I'm not too big on it either.

Two pounds of shrimp go into the simmering sauce...

Aaaand this is the point where I realized I really, really messed up in forgetting to de-vwin the shrimp.

It sure looks pretty though....

Dinner was a spinach salad, some baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, and bread, with a big dish-of-love sitting between us to pick out shrimp and dunk slices of bread....

Very, very good.

Only a couple shrimp really suffered from my lack of de-veining, and overall dinner was a largely silent event while we picked out shrimp, cleaned them off, and occasionally stopped for a sip of beverage (leftover glass of white wine for me, a Dixie Beer for the hubby.

When I was done, my hands were sticky up to the wrists. But it was worth it.