Monday, May 31, 2010

Pizza Chicken

When this recipe came to my mom from one of her friends back in the 1970's, it was simply called "Baked Chicken". We eventually began calling it "Pizza Chicken" because that is exactly what it smells like when you come in after school and get a whiff of Mrs. Lenhart's Baked Chicken cooking in the oven.

This recipe is super-duper easy with only five ingredients. Today, for our Memorial Day cookout, we tried it on the grill which turned out to be very delicious. I think, however, that I personally prefer it baked in the oven, for several reasons. First, breaded items can be tricky on a grill because of having to flip the food. Second, the recipe says to bake at 375 degrees but we were having a good time trying to get the grill below 450 degrees. And third- you just don't get that good ol' Pizza Chicken smell by cooking outdoors on a grill. I suppose that means nostalgia wins. Yeah!

You need:

2 cups plain bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup parsley
1 tsp salt
Oil or "oleo" (what a flashback!)
And chicken.

Oddly enough the recipe never mentions how much chicken you need. I used two breasts cut in half and cut the breading mix in half and still had plenty left over for the freeze. Awesome-- fast weeknight supper coming up! Thinking back, my mom probably used a package of the pre-cut chicken pieces to feed all six of us.

Mix all of the dried ingredients together to make a nice breading mix.

Pour a little bit of oil or the melted "oleo" (margarine, for all you young kids) onto a plate or shallow dish. By only pouring out a bit at a time, you don't risk ending up with a big plate of oil that you can't use. Dip the chicken in the oil so that both sides are coated. This helps the breading stick. Next, dredge the chicken in the breading mix, again on both sides.

Bake on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes. For the grill version, we coated our aluminum foil with cooking spray but the breading still tended to come off.

Here we are with our chicken ready to go on the grill with some hot dogs.

You can see that the breading made a nice crust- on the foil.

But let's be honest, how good are those almost burnt crusty pieces that you pick off the foil? Come on, you know what I'm talking about.

I'm sorry that I don't have a nice photo of the finished meal, all dished up and steamy and ready to eat. We were just too hungry to stop and take pictures. Trust me, it was a pretty good cookout.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Will Hum For Food

Every year in early spring I begin to look anxiously for the return of my mighty little hummingbirds. I call them "mine" because I have been hanging a feeder from the gutter of our screened porch for 14 years this summer and feel that I have developed a relationship with them. It's unclear how long a hummingbird lives though the average is thought to be five to six years. Some have been known to live for twelve years. Part of the problem with determining lifespan is that so many things can happen to our spunky little friends: perils of migration, disease, destruction of natural habitat, and predation. Adult birds have few predators though an image search for hummingbirds will eventually result in the pic of a praying mantis dangling from a branch with one of our little friends firmly in its grasp. Or my cat with little feathers ... nerve mind, it was an ugly scene.

Anyway, on a sunny warm day about the middle of May I will hear a familiar low throbbing and know it's time to hang the feeder.

I hang my feeder in the exact same spot every year, not because I think the hummers won't find it if I don't but because I have worked out the best place to see it while standing at the kitchen sink.

I made an extended hanger from an old wire coat hanger and by now there is a scraped out mark on the metal gutter so I will know right where to hang it for the best view of the show.

One spring, as I was working around that side of the house, a hummer (the first one of the year) flew straight up to me and hovered twelve inches from my face. It was a bit unnerving because the summer before I had accidentally stepped into the path of a zooming hummer as he was chased from the feeder and was smacked right in the face by this guy. I never saw him coming and never saw him going. Getting back to the story- after this guy hovered in front of me for several seconds (an eternity of hummingbird patience) he zipped around the corner to the feeder spot and hovered again before swooshing up to the phone line to sit and watch. It takes time to boil and cool a batch of hummer juice but this little guy zipped and hovered around the patio all morning until the nectar was finally cool enough to pour into the feeder. As I was carrying the feeder to its spot, he flew up to me again and hovered. When I stopped moving, he immediately helped himself to a long drink as I held out the feeder.

I'm not one of those people who are obsessed with hummingbirds. There are no sweet hummingbird knickknacks in my home. But I have learned a bit about them over the years in order to be a better feeder and they are definitely an admirable creature. They may be small but they are fearless. I think of them as the Chihuahuas of the bird world. The shrieking and racket of fighting birds coming from the feeder is only equalled to the raucous my Chihuahua makes when anyone comes near his food bowl (or touches him while he's sleeping, or, well.... that guy's a whole 'nother blog).

Making hummingbird nectar is so cheap and so easy that I can't imagine why anyone would buy it. OK, it's easier- just throw it in the cart. Where's the deep maternal connection to your birds in doing that? Also, I recently priced a bottle of hummer juice at a big box store at $5.00 for 64 ounces. At my house, a 64 ounce bottle would last about four days and it's not really in my budget to spend $5.00 every 4 days for 4 months. PLUS- hello? What's all that stuff in the ingredients? Some of it's obviously sugar but the other stuff?

So this is how I make nectar using the standard 4:1 ration-

Boil a little pan of water for about five minutes. Pour 2 cups into a glass measuring cup and add 1/2 cup of white table sugar. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Cool completely before serving.

Some hummer juice notes:

Some recipes tell you to add the sugar to the water and then boil them together. However, if you boil too long you will lose some of the water and the 4:1 ratio. This will make your nectar sweeter and that will attract wasps and bees.

A batch made by this recipe lasts about 2 days at my house depending upon the weather.

We have "city" water now so it needs a little extra boiling time to eliminate the chlorine and such. When we were still using our well ("country" water?) I only boiled it for a couple of minutes since the hummers water at the horse trough, which is essentially overflow from the spring from which we were pumping our water.

Clean your feeder every couple of days. The hotter the weather, the faster the nectar will go bad or ferment and you don't want a bunch of drunken hummers crashing around your backyard.

Confession time:

I add food coloring. While there is only 1 drop a red food coloring for every 2 cups of water in Mammy's Hummer Juice, it is a scandalous addition, I know. All of the nectar that I checked out in the store contains Red dye #40. All of it. The food coloring which I purchase contains Red dye #40. Does the dye hurt their little kidneys? Are the reported tumors on the little beaks a direct result of bad #40?I don't know.

But I do know that it is somehow impossible for me to make a batch of juice without that one drop of dye. So there it is. Please don't email me.

If you want to know more about these interesting little birds, you can go to:
World of Hummingbirds

The links below are for your hummingbird shopping needs. I have not done business with these sites and do not necessarily endorse them. You may find better Internet deals on your own.

The Backyard Bird Company offers a mix for clear nectar if you must but I would encourage you to do the math in order to determine if it's a cost-efficient purchase for you, as opposed to making your own.

Hummingbirds Forever has a variety of feeders, nectar, books, and gift items for your home.

(Hummingbird photo at top of post from

Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the first picnic weekend of summer. In addition to firing up the grill, many a cook will be serving mounds of potato salad, macaroni salad, and pasta salad. I've had this recipe for many years and while I vaguely remember copying it from a magazine I must confess that I don't remember which magazine. I regret, therefore, that I can't give credit where credit is due.

This salad is a nice alternative to all the other standard picnic salads though I generally consider the crowd before adding the jalapenos. I love it with the full amount of peppers but find that many folks just can't tolerate that much heat. However, this salad, while still good without, really benefits from some amount of spiciness. A few sprinkles of red pepper flakes work as a stand-in for the jalapenos though the salad needs some marinating time to let the flavors fully develop. I also find that for some reason, the colder this salad is, the better. Also, the fresh cilantro, as opposed to "bought-in-a-jar" cilantro, makes a world of difference. Finally, you can mix the first ingredients the night before, as well as the dressing, and put it all together last minute. If you do this, put the peppers in the dressing instead of the salad. Enjoy!

Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad

2 11 oz cans whole kernel sweet corn
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup quartered and thinly sliced cucumbers
2 tablespoon jalapenos, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or white cider vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon grated orange peel (the dried stuff in a jar works OK too)
1 to 2 teaspoons cumin

In 2-quart mixing bowl, combine first six ingredients and stir well.

Combine oil, vinegar, orange juice, and garlic in a jar with a lid and shake well. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until ready to serve.

Just before serving, drain salad, Add cilantro, orange peel, and cumin.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts. Can be refrigerated for several days.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Therapeutic Crying

It has been coming for a couple of weeks. No single big issue or stroke of bad luck, just a series of frustrations that began to add up, a strange sadness that has settled around me like a heavy cloak of blue fog.

Some of the frustrations stem from on-going situations, those daily annoyances that buzz around you, barely noticeable. Then one day you notice a blister. Or a callus.

Some of the frustrations are from prayers that are at least being answered "Not now" if not "No." I can't always tell the difference. Maybe it's "I'm not going to tell you."

Some of the frustrations have been "place in life" situations. How did I get here and how can I get out? Why them, not me? Why me, not them? Why this not that? I'm pretty certain fluctuating hormones are involved.

It was a small thing that set me off this morning- another frustration that in and of itself would probably have never registered as more than a blip on my emotional radar. But, given all things, it swept across me like a raging storm front.

The worst part is that I was at work. It isn't intended to be patting myself on my own back when I say that I really try to have a reputation for never being in a bad mood. I just don't think that my work setting is the place to bring it all out on the laundry line. A co-worker asked me Thursday if I was in a better mood and I was horrified to learn that my emotional slip had been showing the day before. So today I sat in my office desperately trying to get it together. No way was I going to draw attention to my sad self twice in the same week.

Since it's Friday and I was a few hours ahead in my time for the week, I was able to leave work at 1:00pm today. That was when I made The Mistake. I went clothes shopping. I have reached that certain age where a woman could walk to the moon and back and not shed any pounds. In fact, I would probably pick up a few just from being in such close proximity to all that cheese. But we have a wedding to go to tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to treat myself to a new dress. I just wasn't thinking and I'm not going to reveal what size I tried on that didn't fit. Exit stage left to the car to cry like a baby.

I read an article once about the chemical composition of tears, specifically the difference between "irritant" tears and "emotional" tears. Emotional tears have as much as 25 percent more of certain protein-based hormones. These are, to my best understanding, natural opioid painkillers. Beta-endorphins. These are produced by the body when it is under stress and they are secreted via sweat and tears. So that's why people sweat when they are in the hot seat. That's why we cry at times when we would so much rather be cool and calm. It is the body's attempt to purge itself of these toxic chemicals. That's why medical professionals tell us to exercise as a way of dealing with stress. That's why we have that feeling after we cry, that sensation that something very special and almost magical has happened to us. That's why we have a big sigh when we're done.
I do feel better though nothing has actually changed. The same frustrations are still present but tomorrow I'll go for a nice long walk in the morning and work up a big batch of sweat. I'll purge any of those bad-boy hormones that may have accumulated over night and work up some good-girl endorphins. I'll wear my fat-girl dress to the wedding and be happy. Because even though it does have therapeutic effects when administered in proper doses, a girl just can't be going around crying all the time. But then again, isn't it OK to cry at weddings?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The View Out Back

Well I finished it. I say "finished" because I have decided not to work on it any more. It should be painfully clear by the photos that I'm not a painter. No, I inherited only enough creativity from my mom to know how much I lack. But we have this great view down into the hollow from the back of our house and only two skinny windows. So I've been working on this big thing to mimic what we might see if we had a picture window. I originally wanted to do a portrait of our house, looking from the opposite direction. I had gone over on the hill one morning a few years back and taken a couple nice photos of our house. I have long thought of painting from one of the pics but alas my talents weren't up for the job. Some day I'll talk an artist friend into doing it for me.

So in the meantime we're stuck with my version of a morning view of the hollow with the fog settled in nicely. I sure wish I could have done better justice because looking at this view in the morning has become a kind of preoccupation of mine. We have most defintely been blessed with the setting of our home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crafting By The Seat Of My Pants

I was working on samples at work this morning for this evening's craft project, when I was asked "What are you doing?" Obviously I don't know but when I sat down to work on this project last night at home, I was overwhelmed by a wave of frustration. Why do I have to do these things at home, these craft samples and project proposals and all my own printing (at $20,000 per gallon for ink)? I would much rather spend time playing with my family. So I didn't work on it and today I'm scrambling to come up with something so who knows. In the end, it usually comes out OK, not because of any talents I may or may not possess but because of the creativity of my patients. Am curious, as always, to see what my folks create.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Newbie Alert

Be patient with me, I'm learning. These first blogs will be awkward and probably embarrassing. The look may change weekly as I explore new possibilites. We'll get rolling soon.