Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Peanut Butter and Chicken Sauce Euphoria

When I got married 6 years ago, I realized that if I wanted something other than macaroni and cheese, I'd have to make it (Andrew can cook and will help anytime but it's just not something he gets excited about). So I ordered Cooking Light, one of the best health decisions I've made since I started running in 1994, and have been inspired ever since. Besides helping me keep track of my calories and teaching me tricks for preparing good food that's good for us -- like using fresh herbs, sea salt, and small quantities of good olive oil -- it's helped us broaden the kinds of foods we eat. We've added Indian and Thai to our standards, Southwestern and Italian (I think Andrew would also add his favorite, "meatloaf," as a food category but I'm not sold).

The following recipe is now in the rotation of go-to recipes for our household because of its versatility; it uses staples, it's not too weird, and it can be altered to be a sack-lunch or dressed up for company. It would be a great way to try something new -- it incorporates classic Thai ingredients -- even if you have picky people in your household. I'll include the original recipe but then tell you how we've changed it to stretch it, make it vegetarian, alter it to be a soup in the wintertime, and dress it to make it more colorful. The recipe is courtesy of


Cooking spray
1/2 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
4 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
1 1/3 cups packaged angel hair slaw


Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add carrots and onions; sauté 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and next 5 ingredients (through pepper); cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the chicken; cook 1 minute, stirring to coat. Remove from heat; cool. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about 1/2 cup chicken mixture down center of each tortilla, and top each with 1/3 cup angel hair slaw. Roll up. Cover and chill. (I top mine with Sriracha, or Thai chili sauce, and a few extra unsalted peanuts for crunch.)

4 servings (serving size: 1 wrap)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 321(28% from fat); FAT 10.1g (sat 3.3g,mono 3.7g,poly 2.1g); IRON 0.9mg; CHOLESTEROL 49mg; CALCIUM 37mg; CARBOHYDRATE 25.5g; SODIUM 844mg; PROTEIN 24.1g; FIBER 4.3g

So this is the basic recipe. But you can omit the chicken, tortillas, and cabbage and double the carrots and onions, and add matchstick-cut red peppers and toss with warm fettuccine for dinner. Garnish with green onion tops, peanuts, cilantro, and Sriracha, or Thai chili paste, the red bottle with the giant chicken on it (which is why Andrew calls it "chicken sauce"). It's beautiful with all of the vibrant colors. This same meal is also excellent on white or brown rice, if you're looking for a boost in fiber.

The other way you can alter it is by making it into a Thai Chicken Chowder. Saute the onions and carrots like before, but add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cup chopped bell pepper, 2/3 cup snow peas, 1 1/2 cups (1/2 inch) cubed sweet potato, and 1 1/2 tsp of ginger to the pan as well. When that has cooked 8 minutes, stir in 2 (14-oz) cans of chicken broth and simmer 10 minutes. Then add 2 tbl lime juice, a dash of Sriracha, 1 1/2 cups cooked chopped chicken breast and one can of light coconut milk; cook 1 minute or until heated. Serve garnished with onion tops, cilantro, lime wedges, unsalted peanuts and Sriracha if your guests like food HOT!

If you end up trying it, lemme know what you think. If you have another recipe for me, send it my way. I always need new ideas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

RIP Jerry Wexler

Unfortunately for me, this blog is a little pretentious. It's a panegyric to Jerry Wexler, the president of Atlantic Records partially (mostly) responsible for the fame of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding. He died Friday, 8/15.  But that's not what makes the post pretentious; it's because it's partly a paean to music of the 50s and 60s but it's written by a girl born in 1980 who can't claim soul and blues and rock n roll from 20 years before her existence without a little bit of affectedness.  It's a little hypocritical coming from a person who has voluntarily downloaded a Britney Spears song because it made her want to dance around the room.   It's a little high-minded because if you snuck into my car today, you might find it on XM's 20 on 20, and you might find out I know the words to that new song by Carrie Underwood, "Last Name." 

So at least I'm honest.

But I was listening to a tribute to Wexler the other day, which included a sampling of songs like "These Arms of Mine," "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," and "I Know a Woman." Driving down the road on my way to Oxford, I was singing along at the top of my voice when I thought -- who will pass down this music to my students? To my children? To my children's friends? 

Flashback to 1992. I'm 12 and very impatient with my dad.  I've come to ask him a question about history, a question I always precede with, "And can you give me the short answer please because I just don't have 4 hours this afternoon."  Very bratty.  But I come in on him singing.

"These  ----   armmms ----- of ------ miiiiiiiiiiineeeeee" he croons.
"Dad, I have a question about the American Indians." 
He smiles at me and raises his eyebrows but doesn't answer. "They are yeeearrrning, yearning." 
There's no music playing. I roll my ungrateful teenage eyes at him. I've gotten in trouble for this a lot.
"From wanting youuuu." 
"Dad. Are you listening to me?"
"I need somebody. Somebody to treat me right ohhhh." 
I sigh. And wait until the end. "That's Otis Redding, Kacy. I love Otis Redding. But not as much as Bob Dylan."  

A typical conversation in my household. My mother compromised on the radio and let me listen to Bon Jovi. My father would not. "You need a musical education. This stuff you listen to is all boom boom boom boom."  He was talking about the beginning of hip-hop.

So he played Aretha Franklin. And Sam Cooke. The Drifters. His favorite thing to do was imitate the 50s falsetto, especially if it was a Frankie Valli song. He made up his own music too and sometimes paired it with really moldy country songs. It resulted in an odd "Ode to Charlie Pride/Ode to Myself."  Here's just one example:  "Ohhh the Crystal Chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall. . . plunka plunka plunka -- I'm wonderful, I'm marvelous, I'm terrific and I'm great. I'm one of the greatest people I've ever knooooowwwwnnnnnn."   

The music Wexler helped get to the public is the soundtrack to my childhood.  What do I have to give my own (nonexistent) offspring? "Make 'em Say Unnnnn?" "Gin and Juice?" Shooting stars of hip hop & R&B who flare up just to fall down as quickly? 

Nope, no thanks. I'll risk being a musical leech -- a person who makes claims on music beyond her generation -- any day.  

Sittin in the morning sun. I'll be sittin' when the evveeening comes. Watching the ships roll innnn . . . Then I watch 'em roll away again. . .

RIP Jerry Wexler. (And thanks, Dad.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wormwood, or, Kacy Gets Mistaken for a Homeless Person Outside of Walmart

This post is not about the cuteness of kittens. It's actually about a really tough weekend, and a little about this guy, whose name is Wormwood. 

It began about a week ago with the appearance of those kittens I told you about in the last post. They started sleeping in the space between our kitchen door and the screen door, piled on top of each other, trying to avoid the rain.  I tried, as quickly as possible, to find homes for them so that I wouldn't get attached. But when I woke up each morning to find one sleeping in my flower pot, another sleeping pressed up against the door, another mewing at me with his feet on the glass -- I couldn't help it. I became attached to them. I knew my very small window of opportunity for giving them away without trauma was slipping closed. "We could keep all of them," Andrew suggested. Uh-oh. Must act quickly.

Andrew and I decided to catch them and bathe them, since they were covered in fleas, so we could begin finding homes for them. This was easier said than done. Worm, the black-and-white kitten above, walked right into the house, rolled over on his back, and purred. Everyone else put up a deadly fight.  After we finally managed to pick up the first one, she shredded us both. Our hands dripped blood and we were clawed from finger to elbow. We dumped her in the (empty) bathtub. When we went to get the others, we wore gloves, which both kittens bit all the way through. Did I mention they were leather? 

After some time standing in the rain and one can of tuna later, everyone was in the tub, washed, shivering, and resembling drowned rats. They eyed me resentfully.  

I put them all in a box and trudged up to evening church, which was just letting out, and I pushed my way through the people trying to leave. "Would you like a kitten?" I pleaded. "Please take a kitten." Most people were amused but uninterested.  Until Jackson. Jackson, who is a little boy, began pulling on his mother's pants. "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOM. MOM. MOM!" "Yes Jackson?"  "Mom, I want one."  And so he got it. One down. Three to go. 

But the church was empty. No one was left, and I still had two babies to go (Worm, for complex reasons I won't go into, was still at my house). Jackson had picked my 2nd favorite, and I felt my chest go tight but I knew I should just be glad someone had taken him who'd play with him.
The other two, on the other hand, were demons incarnate. Every time someone tried to touch them, they'd swipe and snarl and growl and hiss and not in an endearing way. What was I going to do? (In case you're wondering at this point, I don't take animals I've fallen in love with to animal shelters to be euthanized. I just can't do it. Oh, and yes, it is possible to love even demon-cats, if they're 4 inches long.)  

One person who remained at the church, washing dishes after the evening meal, said, "Take them to Walmart and give them to people there." This sounded like a very distressing and rather embarrassing thing to do. But these devils were not going home with me. I swallowed all pride and positioned myself in front of the electronic doors, holding a big red plastic box with a towel draped over it to prevent the escape artists from leaving. 

"Would you like a kitten?" I asked. Eyebrows raised, lips pursed -- some shook their heads, but most just ignored me. "Would you like a kitten? Please take a kitten," I begged.  Everyone looked suspicious of me and the box. I could see them trying to work out what I was doing; was I nuts? was I homeless? I didn't look homeless.  I didn't look nuts. But who else stands outside of superstores and talks to strangers? 

 Children peered in, charmed, but their parents snatched them by the back of the shirt and towed them to the car. "Would you like a kitten?" I asked, by this time nearly overwhelmed -- embarrassed that I looked pathetic, upset I might not give away the animals, depressed at having to give away creatures I'd come to love even though they ruined my potted plants -- and then two sisters approached me. "Oh no we don't need a cat. But let me see it."  So I did. Just as the first one was about to put her hand in the box, I went to stop her, trying to say "Oh they're a bit nervous, so don't. . ." but she did anyway, grabbing the cat by the nape of the neck.  This little twisted possessed ball of fur went absolutely limp in her hand. No teeth, no screaming, just stillness.  She put the animal to her chest and it began to purr, which it had never done before. The other sister did the same thing with the 2nd kitten, with the same results. "My God!" I said, awestruck. "You have to take these animals! They've shredded every human that got within 10 feet of them. They're meant for you."  And oddly enough, neither sister, like their new kittens, put up much of a fight. They sighed. "We're such suckers," they said, taking the animals to their necks and carrying them home. 

I was left with Wormwood (originally misnamed Wormtail -- it appears I mixed Lewis and Rowling, which is either a sign of too little reading, or too much).  The next day I carried him to three different people.  The first was a friend who agreed to be his temporary home while we searched for another; I didn't last the night. I had to pick him up again. The next was a mere acquaintance; she greeted me with, "Oh no I can't have a cat," and when I let her hold him before leaving, I dissolved into sobs.  This was very odd behavior for me, not just because I'm 28 and grown people don't cry over small animals but because I'm not a sentimental weepy woman. I'm kind of stubborn and fairly level headed. And I'm definitely the practical one in this household. I could not adequately explain to this person that I was never like this, nor was I able to pull myself together. 

Taking Worm back in the car, I pointed my vehicle to the next place I'd try to give him away, but I couldn't see the road for all of the crying.  He licked my face, tracing the tracks of tears down my neck.  I threw my hands up (metaphorically -- I was still driving) and gave in. It was not economically feasible to have a fifth animal, and it would mean more hair, more litterbox cleanings, more food. More shots. More flea medicine. But for some reason, the rational part of my brain that always wins -- that always carefully balances pros and cons -- lost out. And I took him home. And now he's ours. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our Mockingbirds Mimic the Sound of Shock Collars, and other stories

So this post is about pets. If you live near me, you might've heard most of these stories but since I have new readers from facebook I thought I'd record some of the weird and funny stuff that's gone on with our animals.

It's inspired by the fact that I have 4 baby kitties living in my siding. Well, they probably are living under the house, but they get to the pier-and-beam hiding place by going through a hole they've dug just under the siding. This morning, the little devils got brave and decided to come visit Allie, who was standing guard at the door. I went to get a cup of coffee when I heard "Mew mew mew mew mew" -- very much like "Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey." Much to my surprise, there were 4 furry bodies about 3 inches long with front paws pressed against the glass, talking to me.  I watched them for a bit before attempting to open the door, and the bravest of them, whom I've named Wormtail, began hissing at the doormat. It's a rough green cheap thing and I believe he'd never seen such texture before. So when he put his front paws on the mat he leapt up in the air like it'd bitten him on the feet, making him explode into a small puff of hair and eyes.  The other, who has named himself Marlow (sometimes cats do that for me) is afraid of marigolds. Marlow would lean very close to the little orange flower and mimic his brother, fluffing instantly into a small round spiky-haired devil possessed with the need to put this annual in its place.  They continued to relax and explode on and off again all morning long. I've had to force myself to go to work and stop watching the charade. 

But really this is just one in a series of odd animal behavior that's happened in this house. When we first moved in, our 100-year-old dwelling needed more than a little work.  Just below the dryer connection, for instance, "something" had knawed a small hole in the wall that we knew we'd eventually have to patch.  But when I was carrying a box of stuff to unpack and came across a small cat that wasn't there before -- standing in my living room, though all the doors were closed -- I dropped the box and turned to Andrew, saying, "If that hole is big enough to let a cat in my living room, I believe it's time to patch it."  The feral feline just cocked its head and looked at me, as if to say, "Hey. Food?"  

The picture at the top of this post is of our devil-dog Brinkley, a golden retriever who never grew out of the terrible twos.  He's an absolute maniac.  After he was hit by a truck he thought he could catch, a miscalculation that got him a broken leg and us $2,000 in vet bills, he was put on a radio collar so that he could play ball in the backyard while not being tempted to leave it to pursue another vehicle.  (Although Brinkley's wild, he's clever. A month of training with the collar and he now almost never leaves the yard, so the system has been dismantled.) Apparently the mockingbirds who live in the back yard paid close attention to the warning beep the collar gave before shocking Brinkley in the neck because when he returned to his pen, they would watch him as he barked and yipped at them and would respond to his frustration by mimicking the warning sound from the shock collar.  This would cause Brinkley to randomly throw his body the ground and not move.  A very odd site to see from the house, where you can't hear the birds. 

His life companion, Sierra, a mild-mannered sweet mutt who keeps him company, likes to agitate this entire process by biting him in the legs while he tries to stay still.  She finds this to be an amazing amount of fun. 

Meanwhile, inside, Chloe our tortoise shell cat snores like a fat man and sleeps on a pillow with the covers over her little furry shoulders.  And she washes her hands at the sink.  Her friend Allie's only quirk is that she eats rubber bands. 

Sometimes, when I walk past the window and see the baby kitties hissing at my flower pots, Brinkley throwing himself on the ground to avoid vindictive avians, Sierra biting him on the ankles while yipping, and Chloe snoring like an overweight sumo wrestler, I think I'm entirely too underqualified to operate this zoo. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Go Meat

Sometimes, I have small thoughts I want to share that I'd rather piece together like a quilt than elaborate upon, so that's what I'm doing tonight.

In the summer, when it rains, the most beautiful spider lilies spring up out of nowhere and are gone just as quickly the next day. 

I like to go outside in my backyard and gather figs from my tree by folding them into the edge of a long t-shirt. I like to think of the t-shirt as a fig parachute. I get sad when I drop one. A fig, not the shirt-chute.  

My neighbor, Marion, can't pick his crabapples fast enough, so my back yard smells like fermented cider.  I talked to him about the abundance of fruit on his tree, and he looked sad. "People used to pick them and make jelly out of them, dry them, preserve them anyway they could. Not anymore."  For some reason, when he says this, I feel responsible. I hate crabapples. 

Marion takes a gigantic fig the size of a silver dollar and shoves it at me. "Eat it," he demands. I can't tell him that, for some reason, I'm convinced that all figs harbor worms. I imagine biting into the sweet purple flesh and chomping onto a grub, and I repress a shiver.  "I have to eat them only after I've split them with a knife," I tell him. He narrows his eyes at me and says "EAT IT!" but I won't. 

I take Marion some basil from my new "winter basil" plant I bought from the farmer's market. It's starting to take on a likeness to Seymour -- I swear I came in on it singing and gyrating lewdly the other day -- so I had to clip it.  I was so happy to return Marion's kindness (he always brings tomatoes) but when I handed him the basil and smiled at him he said, "What is it?"  "Basil," I repeated. "I don't know nothing about no bagels," he grunted. "Not bagels," I tried to say clearly. "BASIL. The herb. It goes on tomatoes."  "I don't know nothing about no BASIL," he said, equally loudly.  "Put it on your tomatoes," I said, emphatically poking the bright red fruit sitting behind him.  He eyed me dubiously -- perhaps he thought I was trying to poison him -- and said something that sounded like "thanks," but I don't think he meant it.

I spend too long in my study reading about epistolary novels and decide to do an experiment. I send a text message to my friend and my sister in law that says, "When I say Hilshire, You say Farms! Hilshire, Farms!"  Andrew thinks, in their wonderment, they'll write me to ask what substance I'm abusing.  Instead, both of them reply, "GO MEAT!"  In a very small and bizarre way, I feel contentedly understood by people who love me. 

I've decided what makes an adult, an adult.  Lamps. I think if you have lamps in your house that you don't need -- lamps that just make a room cozy -- then you've arrived. Each time I walk past the small, warm, earth-colored lamps in my bedroom, I have to take a quick breath. It looks like Mom's house, only it's mine.  When did that happen?