Good weekends and Air Kissing

Up at the crack of my babies’ first cry, the first thing I did was turn on the news, just as the announcer proclaims that despite the weather, there are “no bad weekends!”
I beg to differ. Weekends mean several things: Getting together for food. Social activities. Sports. Air kissing.
Kissing matters.com
Yes, air kissing. This social habit that came overseas from our civilized European counterparts. Note I said European, not Swedes. In addition the fact that us Swedes Don’t Cry, we don’t air kiss.
It’s all about the invasion of my personal space, the familiarity of someone kissing me that I barely know, or don’t know, or have just been introduced to that bugs me out. My reserved, puritan ancestors knew that our one-space is an invisible line, only broken by a short, thrust of a hand. It’s worked for a thousand years and it still works for me.
Yet time and traditions were passing me by, for as I remained a mole at my own house, having kids, writing, and being less than social, this phenomena had taken hold, like contractable disease jumping from one person to another with each hen-peck. Little did I know that signing off my emails with an xoxoxo to my relatives didn’t count.
The moment of truth came when I got on a plane to Los Angeles and entered the world of air kissing. It was as though the handshake had given way to air-kissing ‘bro’-ness otherworld. A director meets me for the first time, leans in to me, arm touching the center of back and plants one on my check. 

It was odd. I’m unprepared. Do I kiss back? Do I turn my head? Do I touch his back? He was tall and good-looking, and I briefly wondered if I was stepping over the line of marital infidelity if I enjoyed the act.
I instinctively pulled back, catching the glance of the one man I knew, who clearly enjoyed my discomfort. The evil man then proceeded to introduce me to the others in the room, knowing exactly what was coming.
Several other men and their lips came careening towards me. My inner Swede rebelled. This wasn’t a family gathering, a wedding or a funeral. It was a business meeting. We didn’t know one another, and with the exception of one person I’d worked with, wasn’t even sure if I was going to like these cheek-invaders by the end of the day. Didn’t they know my cheek was reserved for a scant handful or special individuals??
It got me thinking-what if everyone in the high tech world started planting kisses as a way to start a meeting. Can you imagine? Hi, my name’s Steve Balmer, smooch my cheek. The Googlie’s and Microsoftie’s might get more softie if each gathering started with smoochies. It could devolve into a group hug-fest.
I had visions of air kissing spreading across industries, job sectors and vocations like the ebola virus running amuck. This begat a business opportunity, (for us Swedes are opportunistic along with prudish).
Cheek wipes. The packaging could be blue and red. Skulls and crossbones. Breastcancer pink and Lance Armstrong yellow. Living free implies absence of disease, and I’m all about no lip-yick from strangers.
And another thing, it’s always the ‘right’ cheek. Who established this as the protocol? By the end of the first day in LA, the first epidural layer of my right cheek had been kissed off.
I took note around me. The restaurants were full of individuals greeting one another, cheek to cheek, lips sort-of touching sideways, full of the strange, TV-love that doesn’t mean much. Heck. If I’m going to kiss someone, I want them to feel it.
This inspired another thought. Kiss devaluation. It’s like the dollar against the Yuan, it’s been so overused and slighted, the value has plummeted, causing an emotional deficit. My ah-ah moment came when I then connected the dots from kiss devaluation to the overall moral decline in society. With the kiss worth nothing, one must naturally move to the next step that’s meaningful. For lack of a better analogy, first base…second base…. It was like seventh grade all over again (well, for Roger sixth grade, but who’s keeping score?)
On my last day in Los Angeles, I made it by releasing my inner Swede. I took control. I put my foot down and erected my protectionist barriers. When a tall, hedge fund manager with a diamond-encrusted watch the size of a pancake on his wrist made his forward-leaning play, I stepped back, thrust out my hand and said,
“Nice to meet you,” before turning and sitting down. It was rude, I know. But he had two things going against him—potential blood diamonds and association with the phrase hedge fund. Using similar tactics, I made it through two more sets of interactions. I thought I was in the clear when I got up to leave for my flight. Four men were sitting at the table, and in a unifying show of politeness, they all stood.
“Oh, no,” I protested, waving for them to sit. “Don’t get up for me. It’s not like we’re on a date!”
The aforementioned friend nearly choked on his tongue with laughter. It just came out, and before I could cover my faux-pa with a nicer commentary, the first one came in for the goodbye hug, saying he “wasn’t going to let me getaway with that.” As I’d grown to like this particular guy in a platonic-business-type-of-way, I was OK with the air kissing that time, though I still slightly turned my head.
Didn’t matter. The domino affect had occurred and the others came rustling in like the receiving line at a wake.
On the plane ride home, I realized the horror of my middle-aged, motherhoodly existence. My right shoulder is the one I carry my 9-month on. The same shoulder she eats on. Pukes on. The same one her grubby little hands use as a riding handle while she shoves my hair in her mouth. I wondered if my shampoo and conditioner were enough to mask the scent of all things baby, or if this was part of the attraction. I made a mental note to wash an extra time or two before taking my next trip.
Once back in the safe cocoon that is my hood, I’m comforted that air kissing is likely limited to the transplants from the east coast, LA or Europe.  As I commence the rest of my Friday, I tell myself this Swede is going to be happy, despite the folks who are going to want to kiss me first and remove their shoes second, breaking all my personal barriers in the process. And as Rog says, I’ll be happy for it, because, as the weatherman says, there are no bad weekends.

Best appetizer: Best crab cakes

With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m getting hit up for some great app recipes. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure fire winner for any occasion or holiday in any season.

What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my first office, and was a key decision making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, and my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”

I started running along the Embarcadero.

The key to great crab cakes is having a high proportion of crab, as well as enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. The way to do this is by sautéing the onion, garlic, celery and peppers in a metal-bottomed pan. This blends and folds the flavors in a way that is not accomplished by adding the ingredients together cold.
This particular recipe is a Sarah special. In other words, it’s a blend of a southern, creole recipe, a northwestern recipe and my additional ingredients I’ve incorporated over the years as I’ve served (and listened) to guest response. It’s always the first appetizer to go. I hope you love it as much as I do. (PS-I’ll post a pic after I make them again this wknd)

Crab cakes

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat (costco has a pre-packaged/fresh that is a great buy at $13/lb)
½ cup butter, some oil (depending on preference)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped orange and yellow each
1 chopped sweet onion
¼ cup minced sweet red onion
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery (inner stocks)
2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp Hungarian paprika
Bit of cayenne pepper
Bit of tobasco sauce
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I prefer parmesan or garlic)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Preparation
1.     Heat butter and oil in a large skillet.
2.     Slice both red and sweet onion finely. Sautee a few minutes.
3.     Slice the peppers and chile and add to the sautee. 3-5 minutes depending on heat.
4.     Near the end, add the garlic.
5.     Remove from heat and let cool.
6.     Add the crab and all other ingredients except egg, mayonnaise and bread crumbs.
7.     Lightly beat the eggs and mayonnaise. Add to the mixture
8.     Add the seasoned bread crumbs to the point where the mixture holds together but is not dry.
9.     Note-if the mixture is runny and you are out of bread crumbs, press the moisture out of the mixture, either through a strainer. If it’s still runny, chop more bread crumbs to reduce the moisture. If the mixture if runny when cooked, the cakes won’t stay together, and will fall apart.
10. Using a small round tablespoon scooper, cantelope scooper or such item, scoop, round and place in the hot skillet.
11. Note: To ensure a nice, even crab crake, use a fork (or other object) to slighty flatten the crab cake. If I am in a rush, I use a bacon press. This ensures the cakes are even and cook very fast.
Sherry-Cayenne topping:
1 cup mayannaise
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Preparation
1.     Mix all three items together
2.     Place a dollop on each crab cake

Tofurkeys and other strange turkey alternatives

We recently accepted a dinner invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends and dine on a fabulous, man-made concoction, a “Tofurkey.” As my mom reads this, I imagine her first looking up and asking my father “what’s a Tuforkey,” as though it’s a new swear word.

Mom. Not so. We are talking about an actual turkey, made of tofu and molded in to the shape of a Turkey. And because you don’t know what tofu is all about, it’s a non-meat based substance that you wouldn’t deign to taste. If you did, you’d swirl it around in your mouth, then spit on the floor. We have been informed the entire tofurkey with all the trimmings are available at Whole Foods.

Rog and I are pretty excited. After all, how often do I get to experience anything new at 42? And since we’re going to deflower our tofurkey selves, we’re going all in. This means having the vegetarian  stuffing, or whatever vegetarians substitute for stuffing, since it can’t have innerds in it, potatoes (sans butter or cream) and some type of vegetarian pumpkin pie. I did propose a desert or two, just in case the experiment goes bad, like Jeff Goldblume in The Fly. That idea got shot down hard and fast. As Roger later remarked, “you gonna gamble with your life, do it all the way.”

It got me thinking about other Thanksgiving dinners where we felt on the edge. During one Thanksgiving meal at another friends home, we ate some type of other white meat, but it was unidentifiable. It was complimented with cherry rice stuffing and walnuts (odd), roasted bell peppers and blueberry cobbler. Even immigrants to this country know it was pumpkins, not blueberrys. We said nary a word, ate as much as decorum dictated, then hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. The friendship was short-lived.

Tofurky, non-molded kind

The year after, we figured we’d play it safe, and invited friends over. The couple were Australian, and came on the condition they cook in our kitchen. No problem. We knew them both to be carnivores. To whit, she spent three hours turning over little hens that turned out beautifully. The other food was an odd jumble of items I didn’t eat and don’t recall. This was because I was so famished after four hours I’d snuck Ritz crackers from the pantry to avoid starvation. 

This year, our next door neighbors are going to have venison, but this is a part of deer if I’m not mistaken. Sounds gamey, anti-bambi and wild in a barbaric, I-have-to-go-kill-something type of a way. Then there is the fish alternative, Salmon being an obvious. Can’t think Washington without conjuring up a salmon. Having arrived on the other side of “Salmon Days” festival this last weekend, it’s time to give the slippery critters a break so they can mate and die as God intended.

If we go strictly vegan, we could get a  roast, made of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, a vegan turkey breast from Whole Foods, and then other strange things I’m not even going to mention.

For the pie recipe, I found this one from Nava Atlas. It sounds pretty strange, and haven’t made it myself, but as long as you (MOM) are reading, I figured I’d get crazy and put it in. You’ve tried fifteen different bread pudding recipes lately, so you might as well try a new pumpkin one!



2 cups well-baked and mashed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (see Notes)
3/4 cup silken tofu (about half of a 12.3-ounce aseptic package)
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg & ginger)
9-inch good quality graham cracker or whole grain pie crustPreheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the pumpkin or squash pulp in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except crust). Process until velvety smooth.
Pour the mixture into the crust.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the crust is golden.
Let the pie cool to room temperature.
Cut into 6 or 8 wedges to serve.

NOTES: To bake butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, halve the squash or pumpkin (you need a really good knife to do so!) and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the the halves cut side up in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Use any leftover squash or pumpkin pulp for another purpose.If you want to make this in a hurry, you can use a 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin.

In the meantime, I’m going to get all ready for my first tofurkey, and let you know how it goes.

Bromancing the stone

A month ago, I was sitting in the living room, computer on my lap, typing away, when I hear Rog call out from the office.
“Bro! What are we having for dinner tonight?”
I continue typing. Didn’t even look up. He was on the phone I figured, making plans with a friend for dinner.
“Frost! I’m talking to you!” (Gitano/Blade)…(FYI, one of Rog’s pet names for me is Frost-aka. The Devil. Isn’t that sweet?)
I look up.
“My name is not Bro,” I remind him.
“You’re a bro,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
Rog has continued calling me Bro. Forget honey, sweetheart, or even the shout out  of a “yo babe!” That at least qualifies me as a girl of some sort. But no. it’s Bro.
And hence became the nightmare that is my new name. Since then, I’ve noticed Bro is now not just a name, it’s a title. In fact, it’s a category of person in and of itself, defining a special status that bonds the receiver and the namer in some sort of ‘bro-ness’ that heretofore, has not been properly catalogued.
To be clear, I am NOT a bro. I lack the equipment. I lack the hair. In the 70’s, wasn’t a ‘bro’ a black man? Now, we have all the ghetto-smurff whities liked my husband trying to be cool, bro-in it up as if Maple Valley is the ‘hood. (just writing that felt wrong).
Our fighter-pilot friend Kevin texts Rog in rapid-fire shots, the same way he flies his F-16. The thumb-finger romance comes and gos, in fits and starts, like an on-again, off-again flirtation.
Kevin’s wife Lori will notice and text me, saying the “bromance” has started up again. We laugh. We shake our heads. Us girls text this day in out, 24X7 and men don’t think a thing of it. But when men text, it’s a bromance.
Above and beyond my gender-bending title and Rog bromancing his stone, the whole-bro thing has gone maintream. Late last night I was perusing a friend’s FaceBook page, trolling through an endless stream of birthday well-wishes. It went like this:
“Congrats, bro.”
“Thanks, bro.”
“Bro, Happy firtday.”
“Back atcha bro.”
On and on and on. Sometimes it was peppered with inputs from a girl.
“You made it to the big one, bro,” wrote she. Now, even girls are calling men bros. Is that normal, or is my head so far in these misty, dark grey clouds I haven’t noticed this is names aren’t used anymore, and I’m the dated one here?
Once upon a time, bros was an abbreviation for brothers. As in, a literal brother. Then we had the bro, which inferred a tight relationship akin to a brother, no doubt ushered in, and made popular by the seventies and African Americans, who made the phrase sound cool. “You’re my bro,” was a compliment. 
It was also cool in the same way us girls talk about being chicks, my sista or homegirls (as much as 40+ yr old woman can say that without laughing), but if a man calls me a chick, I don’t really dig on it. But when my own husband calls me a Bro, I start to have an identity complex. I’m not black, nor do I stand a chance of becoming black in this lifetime.
Now, I’ve got my husband yapping about his “homies,” his “bros.” It’s embarrassing. Then he goes on to tell I’m both. Um. I’m neither. We live in the same home, but I’m his white wife, lacking in both relation and the right color.
I suggest we lighten up a bit on the informality of it all. Go back to calling someone by their given, legal name.
“Thanks for the birthday wishes, Mark,” or “Mark, thx for the birthday shout out.” Either work. I could even stand my husband to throw in a “Honey, what are we having for dinner,” or “Sarah, want to go out to dinner?” In the meantime, he’ll be making his own dinner, cuz I ain’t lifting ghetto-smurff homey bod off the couch for no one until I get called by the right name.  

What readers want

In the two weeks since this blog has been live, I’ve become addicted to looking at reader statistics. How many readers, from what country, when and how many pages views etc. As a consumer of mass information myself, I’ve often questioned why a blog/ezine will post a pluthera of pieces of one subject, and ignore others. Through this blog, I’m beginning to see….readers have clear and distinct preferences.

First–the stats…
The first day, the site had about 40 visitors. Day two, nearly 80, and day three, about 140 or so. Weekends and Sat’s in particular are slow, and it took 10 days for the site to have 500. Day 19, the site passed 1100. The # of visitors on the home page counter doesn’t reflect how many pages a person looks at, which is averaging 3 pages (or blogs) per visit. Also, I got the counter up about four days after the site went live, so it’s off a little bit.  I have no idea if this is a good trajectory or not, and it doesn’t matter so much. The money is meager ($<50). AdSense has contributed a whopping .87 cents to my bottom line. Wahuu.  Good thing the near term goal is to provide an outlet for content that will be read.

Top read pieces…

Like the Forbes 500 list, this is the Sassality top list. And what you are reading include beauty tips, in particular, the perfect eyebrow secret which holds the top slot since the day it appeared. This is top by a factor of 2:1. Who knew? The piece about grandfather dying in Swedes Don’t Cry was number two for a week, until I wrote the piece on Hope and Love in a marriage. Apparently, people need marital tips more than learning about why us Swedes hold our feelings in and live to be 100.  The one other piece on I wrote on Marital Victory, vascilates between number two or three. The piece about me losing everything, twice is holding strong at #4. It’s great fodder for feeling better about oneself.

Health…weight loss…

It’s become apparent why every fifth segment on Dr. Oz seems to be about weight loss, why Oprah has rerun after rerun on beauty tips, and Dr. Phil has made gazillions of dollars hosting shows on marital issues.

The pieces on slimmer thighs, great abs and good skin are all in the top ten, though the rank seems to fluctuate with the weather. If I was really anal about it, I’d create a spreadsheet mapping the day of the week, time of day and general economic environment with the subject, write a piece and submit it to some journal. As it is, I’ll settle for licking my thumb and holding it outside the car window as I drive 60 mph.

Do-it-Yourself items like the garage are well viewed, but definitely middle-of-the-pack (out of 42 postings thus far, in the twenties), while the humorous shorts on Pickem’ up trucks and speaking in movie language go up on Wednesdays and Friday’s around 12 pm EST and 3 pm EST and 12 PST. This is statistically consistent with Internet data from the last five years, identifying users (workers at home or the office) troll the Internet on hump day when it’s slow during lunch and 3 pm for the east coast. The pattern repeats for the west coast as well.

The summary…

Overall, the data tells me people are having marital issues, or are looking for ways to improve relationships, but want to look good in the process. Marriage provides good fodder. Twelve years of living with someone, raising a family, dealing with family issues, are rich soil to harvest stories.

At the same time, it’s important to maintain outward appearances when times are really bad (e.g. wear more make-up when I’m falling apart internally). Consider my brother’s ability to tell when I’ve just been dumped, or getting ready to dump a boyfriend; I’d always drop five or ten pounds. Conversely, when my relationship was trolling along at warp speed, I was happy and plump. Little surprise that now the entire family worries when I lose weight. I’m sure Oprah’s weight loss and gain and back again have dramatically contributed to her billion dollar bank account, for who can avoid the pics at the checkout line, comparing each pound to a vat of butter? That said, I have no interest having this blog becoming a weightloss diary…hence, my resistence to actually going there and divulging every last gimmick I’ve tried on the subject…but never say never. I might bow to the Gods of weight loss in the end.

Oddities, like shoe protocol and stinky feet are humorous, inspire comments, and items relating to males in particular, ensure I receive emails directly from men. That’s been unexpected and cool. I had no idea how many men see themselves in Rog’s life, issues or no, and they they are actually reading up on how to improve themselves. Talk about inspirational. It gives me hope for “man” kind in general–I guess Dr. Phil is doing his job.

What can you expect then?

Lots of coverage on marriage stuff, as long as it’s relevant and up, not a depressing b—ch-fest. Don’t like those articles. Never have. We love saving a nickle here and there, so DIY (do-it-yourself) will be on-going, as will beauty and health. Clearly, the same old topics are regurgitated again and again (can’t count the number times I’ve read the same piece on thighs but I do “one more time” thinking I’ll learn the final tidbit that will evaporate an inch off my legs).

During the next three months, I’ll mix it up with entertainment, food and holiday stuff, since that’s what Oct-Dec is all about. This will no doubt give way to self-hateration, losing weight, clearing up the complexion and overall motivation after guteral, financial and emotional splurging that takes place before the end of the year.
The entire publishing, television editorial cycle has become clear in this little consumer microcosm called this blog. I’m equally educated and depressed I’ve fallen into the mass media marketing of life. Then again, that sounds like a blog subject!

Mystery Shoppers and other seasonal job opportunities

This morning I received a request to be a Mystery Shopper for the holiday season. Mystery shopping, in case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the job of getting paid to spend money and rate the experience. It can be fun, easy and good source of fast money. On a lark, I did this for a company in San Francisco at the same time I was running my company. It was fantastic going in to Sak’s and checking out the service wearing different clothes. I was ignored when I looked like a slob and treated well when I combed my hair. No surprise, but not good for retail sales.

The job title is Mystery Shopper, the pay is $150 per assignment, and the task includes getting cash upfront, spending it on a set number of items, and rating the experience. How fast can you say “make a $150 bucks?”

This morning, I checked out Mystery Shoppers of America and saw openings for Bothell, Washington, though this section is customized by the IP address of website visitors. Large clients include everyone from Target to McDonalds to big electronic and fashion retail stores. A litany of these folks exist, and the F500 clients pay huge amounts of money on market research. It’s how they learn what the customer sees, experiences and responds to products, promotions or even the layout of the store.

For whatever reason, mystery shopping has it’s share of scammers, so it’s best to target an org that’s a part of the national professional organization.

Other seasonal jobs up for grabs can be found at Snagajob. This firm expects to hire 35,000 people this winter.  As the holiday season fast approaches, retail stores aren’t the only ones ramping up. Customer service is a huge area that booms for five months–in the three months leading up to Christmas and the two months following. January and February are big for returns, and this means phone banks are overwhelmed. Having slaved at a phone bank in college, I can attest that anyone who can pick up a phone can handle customer service. That means my five year old can do this job. Pay scale? Between $13-55 per hour depending on skills.

Restaurant, management and transportation are also sectors with high demand, as consumers want to go to eat and need a means to get to their destination. Note–love the tagline “smile till your face hurts.” It may be akin to a permanent enema, but it pays green instead of gives it. Think about that while you apply.

This is also the time to think about spring and summer jobs. Those applications get filled out six months in advance. Get a jump by checking out the opps at Coolworks. Granted, one has to be a bit more mobile to run off to work in a foreign country, but a lot of these have in-state or out of state jobs that can fit a flexible lifestyle. It also has winter job postings right now.

I’ve been amazed at how many jobs are geared just to teens. Having gone through the teenage-boy-needs-a-job phase with my own son, this site is fantastic to see what’s out there and get right to it. Now an enterprising geek from Harvard needs to come up with variations for forty-something-stay-at-home-mom jobs.

The St. Petersburg Times and BusinessWire both offer tips for navigating the seasonal job market. This includes starting NOW, and focusing on the bright spots in the retail market–what companies are doing well while staying away from the stores suffering from recession. According to BusinessWire, skills and training are helpful, but not required.

Three in 10 hiring managers say that a positive attitude is the most important attribute a prospective seasonal hire can possess.” Smile, smile, smile.


Three other areas include Package handling. UPS will hire 50,000 seasonal package handlers and driver’s helpers. Pay starts at $8.50 per hour, fast-paced and physically demanding roles, but if the arms and legs work, why not give it a shot? Sure, you’ll be tired, but will be able to buy presents this year.
Toys R Us will hire 35,000 seasonal employees nationwide, same as the last two years. Other mall-oriented stores are sure to be posting help-wanted signs right about now.

Candy Cane
Security firms such as Allied Barton beef up their ranks with seasonal hires to safeguard the big crowds in stores. If you’re burley and imposing, this can be a great way to scare up some money.

Hostess tips

When I started planning parties, about ten years ago, my first task was to crack open books on entertaining or grab Martha Stewart mags to read up. After giving a few, I realized the information I read was heavy on good recipes but light on tips for the hostess. A search last night yielded few changes in available info. Most of what I learned, and now do, prior to a party, is common sense stuff. 

Ask about food allergies. Very important. Being sensitive to vegetarians or non-drinkers is a must. Sometimes, knowing can be a life or death situation. At the first Christmas party we threw in 2004, one guest came up to me, hand to his throat.
“Did you have fish in anything?” he asked. Of course! I pointed that his plate had salmon-mousse stuffed mushrooms. His veins threatened to pop out of his neck. He was allergic to salmon and his breathing was being cut off. Little did I know he was the son of a Seattle billionaire, and his sudden death on my new carpet might cause a stir. 
He asked for Benedril. We had none. He couldn’t drive, he was gasping. It would have taken longer for a medic to get to the house than Rog to take him to the local pharmacy, which he did. Death was averted. It was a lesson I only needed to learn once.
Food preferences. This goes hand in hand with asking about food allergies. I’ve learned that a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food should be standard for large groups. Food can be tailored for small groups. Also, the drinkers versus non-drinkers can be accommodated with lots of water, juices and spritzes, even coffee. The drinkers definitely have preferences. Hockey players want beer, even in formal settings. For holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years), champagne and wine seem to be the big winners.
Identify the dress code. Even in the northwest, where anything goes, women (and some men) want to know the preference of the hostess. Do all your guests a favor and identify your preference. If you truly don’t have one, then leave it open. When you have a theme, be subtle but leave no doubt of your desire. For instance, I like to state “what the hostess will be wearing.” As in….
Evening Christmas party featuring live jazz, gourmet appetizers and desserts. Your hostess will be wearing a vintage cocktail dress… or

The general verbiage would be…

Ring in the new year in your favorite cocktail dress and dark suit…. Or
  
Scare the guests with your spookiest outfit at our Haunted House, hosted by Count Dracula and his vampires.
Electronic or hard copy invitations. I go back and forth on this one, depending on occasion. For bridal, baby or wedding showers, I have invitations printed. This is because the event is a special, a  once-in-a-life event for the honored guest(s). As such, the guest might want to place the invitation in their photo album, the album of the baby or whatever. I favor Tinyprints  because I can upload electronic items, do the layout on line, proof and order. For parties, I use electronic invitation services like evite or others. It’s much less formal, though the upside is the ability to get an immediate count.
One exception to this is for our Christmas party we have every few years. I’ve learned the down side with evite is that I rarely have the emails to both individuals of a couple. Invariably, the communication breaks down, and one doesn’t get the memo. I deal with this by sending a hard invitation. I’ll admit, I also love the formality of the cards.
Bathroom hand towels. Cotton/linen handtowels are beautiful to look at, but not reasonable for a guests at a party. No one wants to use a semi-wet hand towel. Unless you are stocked like a gym locker, and have stacks of clean towels, go with printed paper napkin. Most grocery store carry holiday and theme napkins. I’ll take a few, fan it out and place on the left side of the vanity sink, nearest the trashcan. To make sure guests understand the protocol, I use one, scrunch it up and put it in the trash. Then they get the picture.
Candles. This is a personal taste thing, though I advocate the use of candles if possible. Candles can be used to fill an empty fireplace, give light on a piano or deadspace, and of course, clear out the ‘air’ of a bathroom. The key is the use candles that aren’t overly strong or that conflict with the natural smell of good cooking or food. Candles that fall in the acceptable category are vanilla, some spiced—like almond, or mild-smelling holiday. The unacceptable are typically identifiable by the bright, unnatural colors, such as a loud purple of lavender. This can cause headaches if placed in a small bathroom.
Coat rack, purses, powder room and perfume. These are little but important things. Our home actually lacks a coat closet, a coat stand or sitting. It’s hard to describe, but suffice it to say, we still haven’t figured out a good solution. Thus, guests come in, wondering where to sit their stuff, wandering aimlessly about the home. At first, I’m at the front door to greet them, but after a few arrive, I’m running around, refilling drinks etc., and it gets away from me.
My solution was to purchase a ceramic plaque that stands on the entryway table. It identifies coats and purses upstairs. For example of where to put stuff, I take a coat and purse and place both in spots where they are obvious and visible. For the powder room–this means women, lotion, perfume and touch up stuff. I note on the plaque it’s upstairs. In the bathroom, I lay out things I’d want to use at someone’s home. Lip gloss, hair spray, etc. It’s a small thing, but women rave about it. Plus, with their purses nearby, they can get their own stuff if they want/have it to use.

9 cooking rules to live by

In preparation for the cooking class I’m giving nxt wknd, I’ve been jotting notes down for a little give-away cookbook. In occurred to me that if I have cooked for nearly thirty-five years and had no clue on the very basics, I’d be doing a favor by sharing my lessons learned.


Sarah’s General Cooking Basics

1.         Eggs at room temperature (better for fluff), better for integration. Also whip faster when room temperature. If you have only cold eggs, heat by cracking the eggs into a metal-bottom bowl. Place bowl in warm water for a few minutes. This will warm the eggs, but not ruin the properties. Saves hours of room-temp time.
2.     Sugar-super fine when required and called for…BUT, not good for most recipes. In fact, one time I made the mistake of using superfine for Macaroons and completely ruined the recipe. The macaroons didn’t hold shape, so instead of being like little mountains, they were flat, white oil stains on my cookie sheet.
3.    High quality chocolate. Ghiradelli. Moderate cost and highest output for cost. Through experimentation, I’ve found the Baker’s chocolate is OK, but it’s a more corse. The texture isn’t as nice, nor is the flavor as rich. I also have to add a titch more sugar when I use Baker’s, than when I use brand such as Ghiradelli. (yes, titch is my technical cook’s phrase).
4.    Convection vs not. Convection bake-great for baking w/crust. Pure convection, great for meats. Regular bake, best for dairy-based, such as cheesecake. Unfortunately, the timing is all over the map, depending on the brand. While some of my cookbooks identify or recommend times, I tend to go on-line to get the timing for my particular brand of oven, Dacor. I learned the lesson the hard way, using the recommended time from the cookbook for a Thanksgiving roast, and ended up blowing $70.00 worth of meat because it was overdone. Never again!
5.    Always, always grill onions and garlic in butter. Flavor is much better. When I’m feeling frisky, I skip the oil altogether. For example, in scalloped potatoes. I modified an already to-die-for cardiac arrest recipe by using butter, and it was much better. Granted, I had to do a bit of skimming from the top, but then I cut this by using extra thick whipping cream (organic), and it was awesome.
6.   Organic whipping cream. Now, I’m not a nut about the whole organic thing. I try as much as I can. Yet non-organic buttermilke has no difference in the texture of the recipe (and I can’t tell in the taste). On the other hand, I promise you, organic whipping cream is the only way to go. For whatever reason, the texture and outcome of the recipe is SOO much better with organic. I’d recommend my local provider, but understand they are only, well, local. Sorry.
7.    Always add the herbs in the butter vs the raw in the item. Flavor spreads better. I’m not a trained cook mind you, just a hack with forty-years experience. I don’t care what the cookbooks and chefs on TV say—I prefer to add certain seasonings during the sautéing part because the flavor—expands—is the best choice of word. This is particular true when the sauté is being added to breads or other item that will suck up the seasoning.
8.    Underbake ‘baked’ items (brownies, cookies) for better texture, by at least 1-2 minutes. Here again, practice makes perfect. I’ve spent more than hundreds of dollars baking cookies, brownies etc that are perfect when warm, and perhaps the first hour afterward. Beyond that, Rog might as well use them for a hockey puck. Unless the recipe identifies how it will turn out, I underbake. Then it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days no problem.
9.    Sweat the lentils. Ensures no soggy, mushy soups (works with peas as well). For years, my soups fell victim to globs of mushy goo, instead of nice, split pea soups with identifiable peas. The same was true for lentils. Then I was told by a nice old woman, the trick was sweating the lentils.

This means to take the lentils (or peas/whatever) put in the pot with oil (which I replace with butter) and ‘brown’ them, for about 3-7 minutes, depending on the quantity. This ensures the lentils hold their nice shell while cooking the inside (of course, after you add everything else and follow the rest of the recipe).
I have a 10th, but thought 9 sounded less daunting!

The halloween frenzy begins

It’s Friday night, Rog is due to return around 10, so at seven I frantically start cleaning the house, top to bottom. My protocol is to wait until thirty minutes before he walks through the door to get all cleaned up, so as not to look like I’ve been prepping the house for three hours. In the middle of all this, my mother and she-who-will-not-be-named call to give me a whole bunch of blog topics.
“Weight loss is the number 1 searched phrase” says one.
“Talk about surviving in hard times,” says the other.
Neither resonate with me. Friday night pizza night doesn’t give rise to thoughts of losing weight, only the hope of not gaining extra pounds from sodium-loaded crust and pop. The surviving-hard-times theme makes sense, and I’ve certainly lots of things to share on that front. But it’s Friday. Too depressing.
I’m a bit more for a happy thought, such as my favorite man-made-holiday, Halloween!!!!!
Mom and 2 cubs
They’ve gone baptist

This inspires a whole lot of frenzy in the Gerdes household, from decorating to buying costumes.  The decorating part starts with the single planter I own, a large cowboy boot, very appropriate with my whole western-thing I’ve got going since moving to the hinterland. Hinterland being defined as seeing a momma bear and her two cubs eating berries three days in a row by the local Baptist church, and today, seeing a coyote chasing a deer through my yard. My environ qualifies as the hinterland.

My boot…before we get into great fall planters, let’s establish the fact that I know how to kill two things: people and plants. The first skill was learned in martial arts class. After two years, I was finally considered responsible and adept at defense to learn how to permanently stop an attacker by twisting and break the neck his/her neck. The second skill was something I learned when I came to the northwest. This climate, the soil, the actual plants, are collaborating to commit random acts of suicide on my property, yet I get the blame.
My friend and long-suffering plant advisor, has tried to cut down the plant murders on my property. She’s coached me on what to transplant and where, when to water, when to prune. It’s all for naught. After three years of subliminal messaging about planters, I gave in, went out and bought a container. It was on the condition that she pick out plants with a will to live greater than my uncanny ability to make it die.
She picked three cute things, a grass, a mum and something else which I can’t name. I’m impressed by people who can remember the names of plants, and awestruck by those who have the command over a second language known as the botanical name (is that the right phraseology?).
Janel just laughs.
“Why remember this stuff?” I ask. I can barely remember “como esta?” and I was born in Central America, lived in Honduras and then took four years of the language.
She puts it in, tells me to water it once a week and is gone. It looks great. I want to invite people over to the house just to admire “Das Boot” as Janel has named the pot.
“Do pots normally have names?” I wonder, thinking about ranches and casa’s de jour.


Das Boot
w/suicidal yellow things



A week later, the rain is coming down like a monsoon in India. I peer out the window, expecting a vibrant pot, and see unhappy, wilting yellow flowers. They are depressed I think, like any living creature stuck in an overcast environment. I tell Janel.
“Are you watering them?”
“It’s raining. Why water them?”
She shakes her head with the same look of undiluted pity my eighth-grade chemistry teacher awarded me when I failed the mud distillation exercise.
“It’s under the beam,” she reminded me. “Only a part of it is getting wet.”
Oh. I tell her the state of yellow-headed flowers. The necks are drooping over the side of the pot like a frat boy after a particularly vigorous party.
“They may be done for,” she says, holding back a smirk.
Upside-down
pumpkin things
At that point, she tells me I can leave it as is, or pick something else out that fits the colors.
Das Boot “after”
I do neither. I like the upside-down pumpkin colored things I saw at the grocery store for ten bucks. It doesn’t fit right, so I have to move the mums to the back. The little scarecrow is tacky, but thought it was so anti-me I’d run with it.
I’m almost as excited for Janel to see my lame attempt as I am proud that I actually tried to pot a plant. All my fingers are still in tact. The plant didn’t give up its life on the spot. Of course, with my luck, it will die in a week, and I can start over again with an “authorized” plant and step-by-step directions on where to put the thing. Good thing I have a day job.
.

Taquito bite appetizers

Last night was Apple Celebration, a wonderful adoration of children, fall colors and all things that fall from trees. My task was to prepare an appetizer and I willfully rebelled against the inclusion of apples. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that my husband, and men in general, want meat in addition to, or instead of, one sweet dessert and app after another. I made three dozen, the first plate was emptied in between the I put it down and turned around to get the other serving dish and put it on the table. 

Layered Taquio Appetizer



This is always sell-out recipe of my own concoction. It’s fast, easy and inexpensive.

Sarah’s double-layer Taquito bites

Time to prep: 20 min

Kitchen needs:

  • Sautee pan

Ingredients to purchase

  1. sweet onions (1)
  2. small chicken (pre-roasted) is fastest
  3. 1/2 red bell pepper
  4. 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper (see note below)
  5. Good olive oit
  6. Salted butter
  7. Corn tortillas
  8. Sour cream
  9. Salsa
  10. Seasonings:
    1. chile seasoning
    2. tobasco (optional)
    3. hungarian sweet paprika
    4. kosher salt
    5. cilantro (but can use parsely if you don’t care for cilantro)

Note: (I have a thing against green bells. I’ve found guests don’t like the stronger taste of greens, so I opt for the other colors. The flavor is a bit sweeter. You can substitute at will).

Prepare the chicken. I was in a rush yesterday, so I cheated a purchased an organic, pre-roasted chicken for $6.75 at the local market.
    Sauteed ingredients
  • Sautee in a few tbls oil the onion for @3 min, just until it starts to turn transulcent. Add the bell peppers (remember, it’s only half of the large ones. Anything more overwhelms the amount of chicken).
  • Sautee it all for another 5 min, enough to soften the peppers but retain some stiffness.
  • 

    Cookie cutter rounds
    a must for every cook

    

  • Add a tbls or more of butter. I almost always add some butter to the sautee. It gives the onions a lot more flavor and richness that oil doesn’t.
  • A minute or so before you pull it off the range, add the chopped chicken, chile, tobaso and salt.Mix it all together so the flavors blend.
  • Take it off the stove to let cool.
In a skillet (preferably the kind that’s metal, not non-stick), drop enough oil for the corn tortillas. Since the smallest tortillas are taco size, I use metal cookie cutters to reduce the size. It’s witnessed that larger apps don’t get eaten because it’s too big for a guest to hold and manage. Smaller apps are called finger foods fo a reason. This doesn’t mean a guest will eat less–in fact, a guest will eat more of a smaller thing. 
Cutting the tortilla rounds

  • Take the round and cut into the tortilla. The larger round you choose will be the bottom for the taquito. Place the rounds in the skillet until lightly browned on each side.
  • Place the rounds on your serving dish, and place a spoon full of filling in the center.
  • Add a drop of salsa and sour cream (I don’t add sour cream all the time, just in case someone has a dairy allergy).
  • Cut smaller rounds, place in skillet, brown and layer on the top of the taquito.
  • Layer the taquito
  • Finish with either sour cream, cilantro or other garnish like sprinkle (grated) cheese, if you don’t have to transport somewhere. Last night, I had to transport the dishes, so skipped everything but the grated cheese.
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