Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how much I love the Pioneer Woman but I love the Pioneer Woman. I’ve loved her for years in kind of a far away, read her cookbooks and every once in a while peruse her site and remember “oh yeah, I love her!” kind of way.

Then, a few weeks ago, I started watching The Food Network on the weekends. It started as an “I’m not quite ready to be up and doing stuff but I need to get out of bed and I don’t want anything heavy” click over on a Saturday morning and now I make time for her show on Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays and I even started watching old episodes of the show online.

Here’s what happens when you watch a lot of Food Network–particularly when you watch a lot of Pioneer Woman on the Food Network. You get really inspired to make things. You get inspired to make food things and the thing I love about Ree (I feel like I can call her Ree) is that she inspires me to make things in practical/let’s not worry about fancy, let’s just get it on a plate ways. This is incredibly comforting to someone like me who is still really intimidated by most foods that are not ground beef served in patty form.

When I watch her show or read her recipes I feel like I’m learning to cook from someone in my family, that I’m sharing any old regular thing. More importantly, reading her and watching her helps reinforce the idea that “regular old things” and “simple” things are just as worth sharing as some fancy schmancy “I grew this pig all of this all by myself and now I’m going to impress you with these knife skills that you will never learn and simultaneously make you feel like a culinary idiot/incredibly envious of my awesomness all at the same time” kind of way.

Plus Ree takes pretty pictures of every damn step of her process. This is very important for cooks like me who will say “define golden. Do you mean yellowy golden or browny golden or scrape the butter off the bottom of the pan golden?”

ANYWAY. I’ve been watching and reading a lot of The Pioneer Woman lately and thinking “I bet I could do that.”

So I’m going to try. I thought it would be fun to try to do a Pioneer Woman styled recipe post in which I share with you one of my very favorite and most easiest to make dinners: Mesquite Chicken (and some other stuff).

What you will need:

  • Enough chicken breasts to feed however many people are on hand (in this case, one, because it was just me).
  • Enough potatoes to feed however many people are on hand (one again, *ahem*)
  • Enough bagged salad to feed however many people are on hand (’bout a handful)
  • Mesquite marinade mix
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • Butter
  • Salad Dressing

Here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Start by putting the chicken breast into a baking pan. I like to line my pan with heavy duty foil because it makes cleaning up later WAY easier. The pan I use for this is glass but you can use whatever you’ve got on hand.

This is a picture of raw chicken in a round baking pan!

 

Then you put together your marinade. Here’s what I used:

This is a picture of marinade mix, olive oil and water!

Here’s the part where I tell you that I was not paid by McCormick’s to feature Grill Mates in this post (though I wouldn’t mind the opportunity! HINT HINT MCCORMICK’S). This is what they have at my local Safeway. Your store might have something different. Use whatever’s handy and affordable.

Now you just rip open that marinade mix pouch and toss it into a bowl:

This is a picture of marinade spices in a bowl!

I probably didn’t need to take a picture of that but I really like how it turned out. Anyway, toss in 1/4 cup of olive oil:

This is a picture of marinade mix and olive oil!

And then add in 1/4 cup water:

This is a picture of marinade mix, oil and water!

Then give it a gooooood stir. You don’t want any of the powdered mix to be left or clumped up on the bottom of the bowl:

This is the marinade mix all stirred up!

Yes, it really does turn that hot orangey color. Don’t worry, it will not taste as “melted burnt sienna crayon” as it looks. Also, can I just say I really like this photo too? I feel super artistic and talented. Anyway, this is where you stop following the directions on the back of the packet. Instead of marinating your chicken for 15 minutes or whatever it says on the package, just go ahead and pour it all into the pan with your chicken. Make sure the chicken gets good and coated in the stuff:

This is chicken with marinade poured over it!

Now, pop that baby into your pre-heated oven and cook it for about an hour. Maybe less, it depends on how you like your chicken. I like mine to be on the drier side because squishy food skeeves me out. You can also try cooking it at a lower heat to keep it from getting too tough, if that’s your thing. The point is: cook your chicken breast however you’d normally cook a chicken breast for it to get done to your liking, just make sure that it cooks right in the marinade.

Now go ahead and grab that potato.

This is a picture of a potato!

Peel it and cut it up in to biggish chunks and then put the chunks into a saucepan and cover them with water:

This is a picture of cut up potatoes on a stove!

Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot and boil the spud for about 20 minutes. From here you can make whatever type of mashed potatoes you like. If you like ‘em creamy and with a bunch of stuff added, go for it. It’s your dinner. I don’t really like properly mashed potatoes because the texture freaks me out. I like smashed potatoes. They’re basically the same thing except you don’t use a masher. You just smash them a little bit with your fork and add some butter:

This is a picture of smashed potatoes with butter!

Stir the butter in, making sure to keep the potatoes as lumpy as you like them. I like mine to be like a baked potato that got scooped out.

With this timing, your potatoes should be finished at about the same time as your chicken, so go ahead and take the chicken out of the oven. Put the chicken on a plate (you can just discard whatever marinade is left in the pan) with some of your potatoes and a little bit of salad (my version of salad is romaine lettuce with ranch dressing but whatever floats your boat is fine). Make sure the plate is big and white so that you can make your dinner look all pretty:

This is a picture of my finished dinner!

Now eat! YUM!

And, um, beware of cats:

This is a picture of Poppy trying to investigate my food!

 

This is another picture of my cat and my food!

No Poppy you canNOT has chicken.

All in all this whole thing takes about an hour to make and you can spend half of that sitting on the couch. That’s what I call winning at dinner!

 

 

Turning 10

Ten years and some hours ago I sat down at my laptop and started typing. And then I started erasing. It went that way for a while. Type-ity type-ity type-ity type type type GAH erase erase erase erase erase lather rinse repeat. Finally, after many failed attempts at forced uber-eloquence I thought “fuck it” and just started writing.

I went back and read that entry earlier today–mostly for nostalgia but also to remind myself of where I was back then and oof. That post is rough. Posts usually are when you’re just starting out, haven’t yet found your voice and are trying really hard to be one thing when what you really are is something else.

Ten years and some hours ago I was drowning in grief over a best friend who had been killed almost a month prior in a crazy, random car wreck and then having the only other person I really trusted up and abandon me a few weeks afterward (there is a bigger story here).

Ten years ago and some hours ago I told myself (and the world) that I was starting a blog because I was tired of keeping all of the things I had to say to myself and because I wanted to honor my best friend’s memory by finally doing the thing he’d been urging me to do the whole time we’d known each other: speak up.

Ten years and some hours ago I started blogging on an old Sears CTX Notebook that was literally falling apart. The hinges for the screen had long since given out so I made do by propping the screen up on intricately folded index cards and trying not to breathe too hard in the screen’s general direction. I had Things that I wanted to Say. I had Views that I needed to Share. I was going to Tell The World all of my Big Fancy Thoughtful Thoughts and in doing so, I was going Accomplish Big Things and Fix My Life.

Obviously at the time I didn’t understand was what I was doing. At the time I thought “here we go, self. Be a writer. Aaaaaand Go. Write.” But now? Ten years and some hours later I can see that what I was doing wasn’t writing or making a name for myself or telling the world all of my big fancy thoughtful thoughts. What I was doing was talking. I was talking because I desperately needed someone to talk to and if the only person who was going to listen was the Internet? Fine. I was going to talk to the Internet.

So I did.

First I talked at Blog City. Then I talked at Blog Harbor. Then I talked at Typepad. Then I talked on my own domain. Then, three and a half years ago I decided that I hated everything I’d ever said and ripped it down and relaunched the talking on a new domain (the same one you’re reading now). (I kept the archives, though, in case I ever decide to let anybody read them.)

I’ve talked through five major moves.

I’ve talked through the birth, life and death of my marriage (I met the man would become my ex-husband after I started blogging).

I’ve talked through a miscarriage.

I’ve talked through trying to find, losing and then having to re-find myself again.

I’ve talked through impulsive decisions that ended in disaster.

I’ve talked through losing loved ones.

I’ve talked through finding new friends.

I’ve talked through starting to build a life that is all my own.

I’ve talked through finding my people.

I’ve talked through hurting and healing and learning.

I haven’t always talked deeply–far from it. A lot of what I’ve written here (especially during the rough times with my now ex-husband) stayed well within the mundane, trivial and even sometimes trite. But I talked. When I needed to talk, even if I didn’t feel like I could talk about what I really wanted (and desperately needed) to talk about I found other things to sub in instead. And now, well, here we are.

I know it’s common to look back at our starting places and chuckle about how adorable we were, thinking we knew it all but actually knowing very little. But when I think back to 10 years and some hours ago me, I don’t feel even a tiny bit “aw shucks, look at how cute I was.” I look back at that 25 year old me, struggling to find exactly the right words and think “fuck it, kid. Just talk.”

I wonder if I’ll feel that way when I look back at this moment ten years from now.

Happy ten years, Internet! Who knew we’d ever make it this far?

 

 

 

The One About Nan

I never once called her “Grandma.” She was always and always will be Nan—a title given to her by my oldest cousin who, as a toddler, couldn’t say the word “Grandma.”  Always Nan. Never Nana.

She was sharp and funny and strict and kind and (sometimes infuriatingly) independent and while she wasn’t ever what you’d call warm and fuzzy she was unfailingly generous to everyone who knew her. With her own kids she believed firmly that sparing the rod really would spoil the child but with us grandkids well, while we always knew she was In Charge and Had Rules, as long as we didn’t spill her coffee or make too much noise, we could do just about whatever we wanted.

And no matter what, no matter how far apart we were or how long we went without seeing each other, we all knew she loved us—even if she wasn’t quick with those specific words.

I don’t talk a lot about what life was like for me as a little kid or as I grew up. I talk about moving around and I commiserate over being bullied in school but I don’t typically go into detail about what life was like at home and I’m not going to go into detail now, save for this: it was hard.

But here’s the thing: even though it was really hard and even though it could get really lonely the one thing that I never ever ever doubted was my extended family.

I knew (KNEW) that if it were to ever get bad enough that I couldn’t handle it on my own, that if I ever started to feel like I was breaking, I could pick up the phone and call. I could call at any time on any day and all I’d have to say was “I need you.” And with those three words I would have an army of people racing to help me. I knew that literally dozens of people would drop what they were doing and move whatever mountains they had to move to get to me and that they would, for lack of a better word, save me.

I knew this and still know this in large part because of Nan. She passed her love and affection and independence down to all of us. She built a family who love each other fiercely and constantly but who are independent enough to not need to prove it or need to have it proven to them.

I used to think this was how all families were but now that I’m older and have been out in the world I know and appreciate just how rare it is to be able to have complete and confident faith in a family’s love…to the point of being able to, often, take it for granted. I’m super lucky to be able to have this total and unwavering faith in my family. And Nan gave that to me.

Nan started to really struggle a few weeks ago. I woke up one morning to the email from my Mom: “Nan’s not doing well at all. I’ll call at lunch” and not much later (I had slept in), the news was real. Nan was in the hospital. She was terminal. She might last for a while longer but she definitely wouldn’t make it longer than a year.

At first we were hopeful—she was yelling at her doctors and nurses and complaining about the hospital bed being uncomfortable around her butt—all good signs. She even managed to do a little physical therapy and it looked like she might even be able to go home and live on her own for a while. Never underestimate the determination of an 81 year old woman who hates the hospital.

But then the news worsened. It looked like she might only make it a few weeks. She was transferred to a nursing home and was finally allowed to be taken to my aunt’s house…where a visit from a home nurse confirmed that she would probably only make it a few days…if that long.

I was able to call her and tell her how much I love her and how much I’ll miss her and listened as she said her last few messages to me (sorry guys, they’re private).

I didn’t say anything here or on social media because she was adamant (ADAMANT) that only immediate family know what was going on. She didn’t want word to spread around her town to her friends because she didn’t want them to fuss over her or stress out about her. She knew she didn’t have a lot of time and she wanted to spend the time she had making sure her kids and grandkids (and nieces and nephews) knew that she loved them and that she was okay with what was happening. It was really important to her that we all make peace with her time coming and to make sure that we would be okay when she left.

I can tell you about all of it now because really early this morning she passed away and, frankly, I don’t care if this makes her mad. She can haunt me. I’ll be happy for the company.

She was alive to see 2014 become a real thing and then, surrounded by the family that could make it to my aunt’s house in time, quietly and peacefully slipped away.  I like to think that she held on that long not only because she loves us but because she wanted to be able to say to whoever she meets wherever she goes next, “Yeah? Well I made it to 2014.”

 

This is Nan on her 80th birthday.

This is Nan on her 80th birthday.

She was a wise-ass but never truly sarcastic. She was a coffee guzzling, chain smoking, mystery novel reading firecracker. She loved Chinese food and liked to flirt with servers at restaurants. She never met a buffet she didn’t like. She was tight with the pennies but used coupons even if she had no use for the product (“but look! I got one free!” she would say about the five boxes of kids cereal that sat untouched in her cabinets for YEARS). Her favorite thing to do was sit at the kitchen table with a beverage and a friend and gab the day away (sound familiar?).

She was incredibly creative and a really talented artist. She was an elaborate crafter who makes Martha Stewart (and Martha Stewart’s team) look like a hack. She was a gifted baker and her cooking…if you grew up in a city where the norm was to have more plate than food you probably won’t know what I mean but she made Good Country Food. Everything she made felt like comfort food whether it was intended to be or not.

She could garden like nobody’s business. Give her some dirt and some time and she could (and would) grow anything. Next to her “stall” (her chair at the kitchen table), her garden was her favorite place to be.

She’s the one who taught me to crochet. I was seven. I’m pretty sure she taught me because I was being rambunctious and she wanted something that would settle me down but you guys: She gave me yarn.

It’s been hard to wait over these last few weeks. It’s been hard to keep this to myself and to respect her wishes about not talking about what was happening. It’s been hard to try to get the things done that I need to get done. Every chirp of my cell phone made me jump out of my skin. I was checking my email every thirty seconds, anxious for more updates (thank you to my aunts M and C for keeping everybody so well informed by the way). I was afraid to stray too far from my apartment because I didn’t want to miss an update and for the last few nights I’ve slept with both phones next to my head because I didn’t want to miss the inevitable call that came this morning. I didn’t want to make plans because I didn’t want to get the news while I was out and in the world.

And I would do it all over again. Because Nan has always done things her own way and I wanted to respect that. Because Nan is worth it.

I’m going to miss her every day and my whole self is just aching with grief but I’m glad that she didn’t have to suffer for months in a body that was defying her. I’m glad we had the chance to say goodbye and I’m glad we all had time to at least try to come to terms with what was happening. She wasn’t unexpectedly ripped away from us. We sent her off on her next adventure. I hope they have the instant coffee ready and allow chain smoking when she gets there or she is going to be PISSED.

 

Boom! Built! BooYah!

When my Mom came up for Thanksgiving last week one of the things we did was take a trip to Ikea. Apparently my sitting in front of unpacked boxes for five months in my YouTube videos was driving her crazy so! off we went! An Expedit was purchased. Delivery was arranged (conveniently for after she had gone back home) and today? Today I have shelves.

It took two and a half hours.

It took a lot of sweating.

It took a lot of swearing.

At one point I got so frustrated I almost cried.

I also got to use some of my set building background when things did not go as smoothly as the instructions implied (I kicked it a lot because the hammer I have turned out to be too small to get the job done properly).

But then, finally, it was done! And there was much rejoicing and jumping around and hooting and hollering throughout the land.

Now I get to unpack my DVDs and organize them!

 

And With This Post…

….I successfully complete another NaBloPoMo!  That’s SIX of those things I’ve done.

Like every other year I’ve done it, I start strong and by the end it’s some phoned in stuff but, like every year, I’m glad I participated. It’s a fun little tradition that never fails to reignite the love I have for this space and all of the words I want to put here (yes, okay, I chicken out on most of them).

And with that I say, humbly…

I WIN I WIN I WIN I WIN I WIN!

 

On Leftover Day…*

I don’t know what thing makes me the most proud:

That yesterday I was able (with the help of my Mom) to cook a four course Thanksgiving Dinner in my itty bitty kitchen. Wait. Do rolls count as a course? Because if rolls count as a course, it was five. If dessert counts, it was six! It’s the nice thing about having a small and low-key Thanksgiving. I didn’t need to make a massive amount of each thing. I only needed to make enough to feed the two of us and have some leftovers.

That I have found a compromise based Thanksgiving dessert! It’s widely known (though somehow people never ceased to be shocked or needing to be reminded) that I do not like pie. This makes the consumption of pumpkin pie a bit of a conundrum on Thanksgiving.  To be honest, I can eat pumpking pie–it’s solider than other types of pie so I can usually manage at least a small piece. But this year? I decided to do pumpkin bread. Pumpkin taste, no pie squishiness! It was super tasty and I think I might make it a new tradition.

That I have gotten my Mom to adopt the phrase “cozy pants o’clock.”

That I have gotten my Mom…okay maybe not addicted to but at least intrigued by Master Chef Jr.

*Leftover Day is a holiday created by my friend Josh Cagan. You can read his great Yearbook Office post about it here.