Allow me to introduce myself, I’m your new neighbor. That neighbor.
Oh, I don’t plan any trouble, slights, inadvertent impoliteness, or anything to make you call your insurance company, emergency services or realtor; but chances are pretty good that you will at some point. I apologize in advance and offer these anticipatory peace offering muffins.
We have teenagers who park poorly and will probably impede your driveway access at some point. We have young kids that have cannot keep a ball in their own yard to save their life. We have a dog. Cute, but she’s a runner and a digger with a propensity for your fence line and begonias.
We have parties. And house guests. And a drum set. And inappropriate boundary issues.
But if you’re able to overlook these few flaws–and the tragic paint color experiment on your side of the house–we do have our good points.
Like you know the Bunco group with all of the popular people in the neighborhood? Well, I’m blacklisted from that one but I’ll bring you as my personal guest to the one formed by outcasts in dramatic protest.
And you know that giant nest of rabbits that live under your back porch? They used to live here before I chased them out after eating the biggest patch of basil this side of Tuscany. I’ll make you (and your exterminator) a batch of homemade pesto.
And since we are in a constant state of violation with the homeowner’s association, chances are you can get away with a plethora of infractions with their attention turned our way. We are responsible for so many of the amendments to the covenants they refer to us as the Continental Congress. You’ll probably be able to skirt a fine for those bottle rocket casings littered all over your roof for at least six more months. (I’m sorry and you’re welcome.)
So while it may not seem like we make the best neighbors, we do make pretty decent friends. Join us for a BBQ this weekend and I’ll show you.
(And how that large bare patch in your lawn in the shape of a giant chicken wing got there.)
Anticipatory Apology Blueberry Muffins
Makes a dozen
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 pint fresh blueberries (They’re your new neighbors, make a good impression and splurge on fresh berries, for goodness sake.)
Turbinado sugar, if desired
1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 Tablespoon and toss over blueberries in another small bowl. Set both aside.
2.) Whisk together sugar, sour cream, oil, egg and almond extract. Slowly add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries.
3.) Line a muffin tin with papers and fill each with the batter evenly. Sprinkle each with a healthy sprinkle of turbinado sugar before putting in the oven.
4.) Bake for 20-25 minutes. Deliver to new neighbor. No mention of highjacked wifi needed.
In my old liberal hippie escape fantasies, I used to want to run away to Vermont and start a lavender farm and make my own soap.
I’ve evolved since then.
Now, I want to run away to Tuscany to start a pine nut and basil farm and make my own gelato.
I’ll start with this one.
Espresso Chocolate Chip Gelato
(You need an ice cream maker of some sort for this recipe.)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
1 cup mini chocolate chips, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate pieces
1.) Freeze or refrigerate chocolate chips until ready to use.
2.) Combine milk and cream in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat through until it foams around the edges. Whisk in espresso powder and vanilla until dissolved.
3.) Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar until pale and sugar is dissolved. Add about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the eggs–stir well, then add the rest and stir until combined. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat through until it coats the back of the spoon, about 3-5 minutes.
4.) Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl or pitcher, cover and chill about 3 hours.
5.) Following your ice cream machine instructions, process the gelato for about 10-15 minutes or until just about done. Add the chocolate chips in the final minutes. Freeze until ready to serve.
6.) Search out Italian farmland and used gelato street carts on the Internet.
Although we have settled in nicely into our new home, there are still a couple of aspects of Southern life that I have yet to get used to. Oh, I’ve mastered yelling “UNSWEET” quickly after I order my iced tea. I’ve figured out what a Meat and Three is and I’ve even learned that rain makes corn and corn makes whiskey, as well as making Tennessee cars slow to .4 mph. But even after all of these Southern life lessons, my biggest conundrum remains: how anything gets done around here.
I’ve said before that someone could make a fortune actually providing services that people want and need down here, and yes, I realize that makes me sound like a Yankee carpetbagger. But then at least YOU’D HAVE SOMEONE INSTALLING CARPETS, SOUTH.
Our homeowner troubles began before we even moved in when the landscaper from the previous owner wanted to charge us $5600 for yard work. On the yard that he had been paid to maintain. And then it was the cable company who installed cable in the house, but if I wanted any “non-covered” services like moving the TV or putting batteries in the remote, I could pay them cash on the side.
We hired a carpenter to build some shelves and install a wine cooler. After months of excuses, on the day he was supposed to deliver it his wife emailed to say the cooler had died in an unfortunate car accident on the way to our house along with the receipt and dental records.
I had a repair man come out to fix our gas grill. Before he even rounded the corner to the back yard, he threw up his hands and declared that “on behalf of myself and Sears, I decline to work on this equipment,” as if he was stating his intentions to a hidden NSA agent. He said I didn’t have a “grill,” I had a “De-luxe Bar-B-Cue System,” that required a specialty repair service from a fire and hearth store, despite having bought the stupid thing at Sears the year before.
We’ve had three different trash companies because they just stop picking up, you know, trash?
I’ve been on the phone getting solicited to sign a service contract with an A/C company that I’m already under contract with. When I reminded them that I was due for a service call, I had to wait 2 1/2 months before they could find an opening. And they even had to reschedule that appointment because “it looked like rain.”
When we decided to get an outdoor fireplace built like many of our neighbors, I started calling the numbers from some of the home magazine advertisements. Only one actually came out and then wouldn’t show us a rendering until we paid a deposit so we wouldn’t use anyone else. I went to a store that had outdoor fireplaces on display at its entrance. I filled out a request form in person for a contractor to contact me. Not only did they never call, but I think they blocked my number and put my picture on the wall warning that I was as dumb as, and therefore not to be sold any boxes of rocks.
So when in a last ditch effort for outdoor warmth a postcard addressed to “Resident” which I was beginning to doubt referred to me, arrived with pictures of fire pits and hardscapes I was not only hesitant and skeptical, but perhaps a bit masochistic when I placed the call.
I left a message knowing full well it would only end in ignored heartbreak, but much to my shock and awe, he returned the call. And he came out that same day to take measurements and give me a brochure. And then he emailed me that very night with an actual price quote.
And then if I heard him right over my screams of joy, he said he could start the work on MONDAY.
When the orchestra of angels quieted, I sent a quick note to my Homeowner’s Association letting them know that s’mores were being served at our house next weekend and instead of offering to bring graham crackers, the woman sent back an architectural modification request form and instructions that it would take 45 days for a response.
45 days? South, have you met you?
Because I assume that a Homeowners Association are owners of homes associated with my geographic area and therefore know that the number of obstacles, natural disasters, suspicious fires, and shiny things that can derail a home maintenance project in the South are only outnumbered by the amount of cowboy boots and aspiring country singers at Tootsies on a Saturday night.
And before you think this is only limited my bad northerner luck, our neighborhood clubhouse holds a support group for grief-ridden residents mourning the loss of their deposits and souls to a driveway sealant company every Tuesday.
At the time of this publication, I face a dilemma. Do I listen to the proverbial angel on my shoulder telling me to submit the required paperwork, wait for the inevitable approval a month and half later and based on nothing in my history, experience or common sense hope that the contractor will still be in business, available and/or not incarcerated? Or does the devil’s advice of submitting the paperwork but going ahead with the project before the actual approval comes and risking nasty letters and possible fines from HOA win out?
I hear official stationary makes the best kindling on cool Southern nights.
Fire-roasted, Marinated Red Peppers and Olives
(Adapted from the Viking Cooking School) vikingrange.com
2 large red peppers
3 Tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
5-6 oz. pitted olives such as kalamata
Vinaigrette (Use the extra on a salad or a dip for fresh bread)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
!/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1.) Char the red peppers by placing directly over an open flame such as an illegal outdoor fireplace or your gas stove burner. Hold with tongs to blacken the entire surface then place into a bowl and tightly wrap with plastic. Let sit in wrapped bowl for 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle.
2.) Peel away all of the skin off the peppers, remove core and seeds, and slice into thin strips. Arrange on small platter.
3.) Mix the first 6 vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil to form a dressing. Season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Set aside.
4.) Pour half of the marinade over the peppers, rough chop the olives and mix in the remaining marinade. Layer olives over top peppers and sprinkle on capers. Serve at room temperature.
5.) Serve proudly at the next HOA Disciplinary Hearing.
After almost two decades along my journey through motherhood, I finally felt as if I’d grown out of the minivan phase and could log the remaining miles in a vehicle that wasn’t the mom jeans of the automobile industry.
It’s not that the van didn’t serve it’s purpose (of aging me 15 years) for a time when the kids were smaller, but it was time to move on and up to a more age-appropriate and respectable car.
Despite being born and raised in Detroit, purchasing a new vehicle is not one of my favorite things. I certainly like driving a nice car, but the procurement of said automobile is painful and tedious in my opinion. The negotiating process makes me want punch babies, so I have abandoned this task to my conflict-loving husband many years ago.
It’s worked out well until now.
On our recent new car purchase, my husband dutifully chose, negotiated and secured our family roadster. My only request was that it wasn’t a minivan, and all doors must open instead of slide sickeningly along a Cheeto-laden track. All that was left for me to do was drive in the old van for the trade-in assessment (which I had judged to be about 46 cents and a tetanus shot) and pick up the new car. I see now it was here when things took their turn down a dark path.
Conversation with salesperson as I waited an hour for appraisal on trade-in. (I can only assume it took this long to pry an old sippy cup from the dash board covering the VIN number.)
Me: So while I’m waiting, can we look at the car since I haven’t seen it yet?
Salesperson: We have to special order your car, we don’t have it here.
Me: That’s okay, I can look at something similar.
Salesperson: We really don’t have anything close to what you ordered on the lot.
Me: (Confused.) Um, okay. How about if I just look at a brochure?
Salesperson: (Looks nervous. Exits quickly.)
15 minutes later Salesperson returns not making eye contact.
Salesperson: I’m sorry, we have no brochures and I can’t even show you a depiction online because yours is so different that IT WOULD CONFUSE YOU.
At this moment I should have grabbed the keys to my old van, prayed the thimble of gas I left in it would have held me past the dealership driveway and returned immediately to the compound where Moms like me aren’t subjected to confusing things like paint and interior color differences.
But I didn’t. I guess I was indeed confused wondering why my husband had purchased a vehicle enrolled in the witness protection program and why my new car was as embarrassed to drive me as I was of my old one and it hadn’t even seen my jeans yet.
And while this was annoying, insulting, asinine and unacceptable; IT WASN’T A MINIVAN and therefore worth the humiliation.
And ultimately my personal safety, because before I had time to preset my radio to the folk music and NPR stations, I had to make an emergency return to the dealership when I noticed a slight problem with the brakes: I had none.
Driving into the dealership service department:
Me: (Shaking)This brand new car has no brakes. I can’t believe I made it here alive.
Salesperson: You probably have the emergency brake on–new cars take some getting used to and this one’s got a little more power than your van.
Me: The emergency brake is indeed on now because I had to apply it in order not to mow down the customers in your showroom because I HAVE NO BRAKES.
Salesperson: (Condescendingly.) I’m sure it’s user error. Why don’t you go into the lounge and have a glass of sweet tea while the mechanics look at it.
Salesperson: Well, it looks like there are no brake cylinders in that car of yours. They all have to be replaced.
Me: How does that happen?
Salesperson: Not real sure–should never have passed inspection. Regardless, it’s unsafe to drive.
Me: No shit.
Salesperson: I’ll tell you what I’m going to do–I’m going to set you up in a rental free of charge while we order new parts.
Me: That’s the least you could do…
Salesperson: Let me put you into this nice minivan for the time being….
So it turns out I really wasn’t ready to put the minivan in my rearview mirror after all.
Salesperson: No shit.
The Best Roadtrip Steak Sandwich Ever
1 loaf of French Bread
1 nicely-sized flank steak
1 jar of roasted red peppers
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
1 4 oz. package of goat cheese
olive oil, salt and pepper
1.) Grill flank steak seasoned with garlic salt or salt and pepper on the grill or grill pan on the stove about 6 minutes per side or until medium rare. Set aside to rest at least 15 minutes. Slice steak thinly on an angle against the grain.
2.) Cut French bread in half on an angle and then slice down the middle horizontally so you have two sandwiches. Drizzle the bottom bread slices with olive oil then lay the steak slices all along the bottom.
3.) On top of the steak, layer the peppers, goat cheese, and avocado. Top with arugula, and drizzle with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Replace top bread slice, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for a couple of hours to let the flavors develop, but not too long so the bread and arugula gets soggy.
4.) Pack in cooler and pass up every fast food joint on the interstate in your new or old car.
There’s a certain inevitability on any given radio dial in the Year of Our Lord 2013, that at some point within a 3 minute time period, you will be subjected to a Taylor Swift song. Whether this entertains or tortures you is your business, but for me, it provided an unexpected birthday gift this year.
With just a little tweaking to her smash hit “22,” Taylor gets me. So, thanks, T-Swizzle for capturing exactly what it’s like to turn 42.
It feels like a perfect night to pull up our hipsters Way past our solar plexes uh uh uh uh It feels like a perfect night for Pinterest at midnight Errantly texting strangers uh uh uh uh Yeahhhhh We’re savvy spent clever and jaded at the same time It’s miserable and premenopausal oh yeah Tonight’s the night we forget about the laugh lines, it’s time uh uh
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 42 everything will be alright if you keep my wineglass full You don’t know about me and I can’t remember you but everything will be alright if we just keep Spanxing like we’re 42, 42
It seems like one of those nights Outback’s too crowded too many school kids It seems like one of those nights We ditch the sitter and end up sleeping instead of eating Yeahhhhhh
We’re savvy spent jaded and clever in the best way It’s juvenile and geriatrical oh yeah Tonight’s the night when we forget about the backaches It’s time
I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 42 Everything will be alright if you keep my wineglass full You don’t know about me and I can’t remember you Everything will be alright if we just keep Spanxing like we’re 42
After I spent an insane amount of time rewriting this simple song, I realized that I didn’t even turn 42 this year–I’m effing 43 which is such a 42 year old thing to do that I could have added another refrain.
So here’s some damn sugar and chocolate with booze in it.
Happy @#$% birthday to me.
Tiramisu for 22 at 42
3 eggs, separated
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup strong coffee (because who has a cup of espresso laying around?), divided
1 cup sugar, divided
1 T. brandy
2 T. Kahlua or coffee liqueur
1 1/2 packages of lady fingers
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. cocoa and/or shaved chocolate
(If you’re a normal cook and not a Food Network star, you probably only have 1 hand or stand mixer in your kitchen, so included are some hints for that.)
Beat egg yolks, 1 tablespoon coffee, 1/2 cup sugar until well combined. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from mixing bowl and give the bowl a wash and final rinse in cold water.
Whip egg whites and a pinch of sugar until fairly stiff; gently fold into your mascarpone mixture, just until combined. Don’t over mix.
Rinse the mixing bowl out in cold water again, dry, and whip the heavy cream with the remaining scant half cup of sugar. (You can adjust the sugar here to taste, and add a teaspoon of vanilla if desired.) Set aside.
Mix the last of the coffee with the Kahlua or brandy in a shallow bowl. Dip a lady finger quickly, and then line the bottom and then the sides of a 13×9 glass dish or trifle bowl with the cookies. Layer half of the mascarpone mixture, sprinkle with cocoa, then repeat with a layer of dipped ladyfingers. After two layers of cookies, cheese and cocoa, top the top with the whipped cream and cocoa. Drizzle with some Kahlua if desired and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill 4-5 hours, but it’s best overnight.
Sing “Happy Birthday” (or any Taylor Swift song) loud and proud.
But as the new title suggests, I want to mix things up a little differently. Closer to the way I do with my family and friends in real life–at a cozy table with full plates, glasses and conversation.
Oh, we’ll still chew the fat on exercise class and vacations, but we’ll add something a little more savory while we’re doing it. I’ll share my stories, recipes, menus and delicious experiences and let’s see if we can’t get through our crazy days together. We’ll play with our food and eat while we play.
So pour yourself a glass of Sangria, and let’s dish.
Sassgria for a Crowd
3 bottles of cheap-ish, sweet, red wine (if you use your good stuff, you’re doing wine a disservice and tormented grapes will haunt you for the rest of your days.)
1 cup simple syrup
3/4 cup brandy or blackberry brandy
1 orange, apple and lemon or lime sliced
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 liter of club soda, seltzer water or Sprite
Prepare a simple syrup of 1 cup sugar dissolved into 1 cup of water in a small saucepan on the stove. Remove from heat when sugar has completely dissolved and set aside to cool.
Make your “mash” by placing slightly cooled syrup, 1 bottle of wine, brandy, sliced fruit and cinnamon sticks in a small pitcher and chill for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight. Chill remaining bottles of wine and club soda.
When ready to serve, combine mash with remaining bottles of wine and top with club soda right before serving. Make sure each glass had a piece of fruit and a designated driver.