Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why I drive with duct tape

I've had an interesting car or two in my time. White Lily, for instance. Unfortunately, I've also sealed my reputation as a driver with a couple of accidents. But my latest (and longest lasting-- at least in my hands) car, Lady Jane Grey, has managed to steer clear of most of my driving issues. Until now.

This past winter, we had an ice storm or two. We only had one official snow day, but we also had one two-hour delay. I drove to work about an hour later than normal-- right before the de-icing trucks got to the road. I ended up in the ditch; the road was simply to slick for my car to stay on course around the elbow-sharp turn. My car was fine, except that it looked like it was missing a tooth or two in the front. My bumper was messed up.

I put off fixing my bumper into the indeterminate future. One, because my parents already had a vehicle in the shop. Two, because I had no earthly idea where to go. (Okay-- I still don't. But I'm goin' somewhere.)

Flash forward a few months.

I'm tired, it's early in the morning, and I'm returning from NYC, going to work. My contacts are in, but I'm not focused. And too late, I see what looks like a deer in the road, already dead. I brace myself, run over it, and listen for anything funny. When I don't hear anything, I relax and keep on driving.

A few days later, on the exact same road, I encounter the exact same scenario, only it's at night, it's a dead dog, and I am paying attention--only there's a car in the oncoming lane. I once again brace myself-- and immediately feel the SCRRRRRRRGH of a flat tire. Not that I would know. I've never had a flat tire before.

Pulling onto the side of the road, I immediately call my dad. He's the one with the technical know-how-- in fact, so much that I've never felt the need to learn how to change a flat tire. I know that's ridiculous-- twenty-seven year old single gal who doesn't know how to change a tire?! Yup. That's me.

Only, when I climb out of my car to see the damage-- or rather, feel the damage, since it was at night--my tire bounces back against the toe of my shoe. There doesn't seem to be any problem with my tire. Or any of the other tires. I look a little closer, and happen to notice that my bumper is no longer just hanging onto my car. It's now dragging the ground.

Thankfully, the closest WalMart was within slow-driving distance. Where I bought duct tape. Where I sat in the parking lot, laughing my head off while I carefully applied duct tape to my bumper.

And this, my friend, is why I drive with duct tape.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Easiest. Turkey. Ever.

Okay, maybe it's not the absolute easiest turkey ever, but it's really easy. And really, really good.

My pursuit for a new turkey recipe came after talking to my sister about Easter's dinner. "Turkey?! Why not ham?" she not-quite yelled into the phone. But my sister wasn't about to get her wish: my mother had already started defrosting the turkey. It had been sitting in the fridge for two days already, so instead I went on a mission to find a turkey recipe that was more like ham. I found it on, which happens to be one of my favorite places to find recipes.

You see, I believe in moist turkey. I think everyone does from a theoretical standpoint, but it's more elusive in home cooked turkeys rather than your commercial deli slices from the grocery store. Thankfully, there's always one key ingredient in moist turkey: salt. Before this weekend I'd always added in my salt through brining the turkey using this recipe. (My gravy and stuffing are also rifts off the linked recipes on this page.)

Brining makes a delicious turkey, but it requires you to start several days in advance. It's also bulky, and a bucket full of turkey-plus-a-gallon-or-two-of-salt-water is heavy. And my favorite brined recipe can be time-consuming and labor-intensive when it's in the oven, with lots of basting involved-- not something I would have time for on a Sunday. A new recipe was most certainly in order.

And this recipe? It's great. It's easy and relatively labor free--at least as labor-free a turkey as I've ever made. One reason I like it so much is because it goes with the low and slow method of roasting, which almost guarantees you a moist bird. It meant I didn't feel like I was going to burn my bird when I left for church, the oven timed to turn off somewhere in the middle of the service. And while it also included basting, it seemed to somehow work into a Sunday morning. And my family loved it. Enough endorsement? Here's the recipe:

Brown Sugar-Cured Turkey

Bon Appétit | November 1997

recipe from

Yield: Serves 10
1 20-pound turkey
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground mace

2 large onions, quartered (or in sixths--more my style)

2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

Rinse turkey inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey on platter. Mix brown sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, allspice, cloves and mace in small bowl to blend well. Rub brown sugar mixture all over outside of turkey. Refrigerate turkey uncovered 24 hours.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 300°F. Arrange onion quarters in large roasting pan. Place turkey atop onions. Tie turkey legs together. Tuck wings under turkey. Sprinkle turkey with pepper. Cover loosely with foil.

Roast turkey 2 hours. Uncover; roast 30 minutes. Add 1 cup broth to roasting pan; baste turkey with broth. Roast turkey 1 hour, basting occasionally. Add 1 cup broth to roasting pan; continue to roast turkey until dark brown, basting with broth every 20 minutes, about 1 hour. Cover turkey loosely with foil; continue to roast until thermometer inserted into innermost part of thigh registers 180°F, about 1 hour 30 minutes longer.

Transfer turkey to platter. Tent with foil and let stand 30 minutes. Serve with Wild Mushroom and Roasted Onion Gravy.

Wild Mushroom-Shallot Gravy

Bon Appétit | November 1997

I modified this recipe from a reduction sauce to a pan gravy, since I didn't have any extra cream on hand. (The cream I did have went into homemade ice cream.)

Yield: Makes 3 cups

roast onions from the brown sugar turkey, tough pieces discarded, and cut into chunks
oil and drippings from roasting pan, separated
(You can use olive oil or butter here, if you'd rather not use the "grease" :P

12 ounces mixed wild mushrooms (such as oyster, morel and stemmed shiitake), sliced
~ 1/4 c. flour (I always use freshly ground whole wheat pastry flour. I just like what whl.wht. flour does in a gravy.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or 3/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
~1/2 cup dry white wine
~1/2 milk
~1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth (you can use part of the drippings here-- just be careful for the salt.)
salt/pepper to taste

(When I make a pan gravy, my ingredient amounts are always inexact.)


Transfer 1-2 tablespoons of butter, olive oil, or grease from roasting pan to a heavy, large saucepan. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage, and roasted onions to saucepan; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add in flour; make a slurry with the vegetables and flour, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add white wine; reduce until syrupy, about 6 minutes. Add stock; cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add milk; boil until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with turkey.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

So Far...

This week is Spring Break. Which means I'm off--for the next 3 days. (That's a kind-of depressing thought, considering I had a whole week plus a couple of days at the beginning.) But all things considered, it's been the kind of break you want from your job. So far, I've:

  • spring cleaned the kitchen.
  • sewed. Quite a bit.
  • blogged. I know there's no evidence of it here, but there are a couple more posts in the works.
  • cooked. Of course.
  • revamped my closet for Spring. I think maybe I should admit the fact that I have no reason to go shopping this Spring, and yet, I will. Because I'm tired of wearing the same fifty million outfits over again? Heh. I think if I go shopping for anything, it had better be tops. Not that I don't have enough of those, either.
  • Shopped. Before I reorganized my closet.
  • Went to that-awesome-market-that-sells-everything---food-wise.
  • Made Lamb for the first time. Yup. And my dad--who isn't big on lamb--told me it was the best he'd ever had. (That made me soooo happy!) And the awesome thing about this recipe? It's done in the crock pot.
What's sad is that the other stuff-- school stuff--hasn't made it to my list yet. It's sitting by my left side over here, reproaching me. I've got to get to it before my break is over. But in the meantime, if you ever decide to make lamb, here's an easy but delicious recipe:

Roast Lamb in the Crock Pot

Modified from a great blog I'd never read before now. There are a lot of similar recipes out there, but this one caught my eye.

A mortar and pestle do help in this recipe, but if you don't have it, you can always use a mini-chopper or one of those pampered chef things, the back of a spoon--or your fingers.

1 leg of lamb (that will fit in your CrockPot – if not, get the butcher to cut off the shank end) – with or without bone
or-- we bought a lamb shoulder. It was a much better price at the market than the leg, and it worked just as well.

1 lemon
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped finely
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried, which is what I did)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme (I had it on hand from last Sunday's turkey and gravy-- that's another post, though)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. coarse salt (I used Kosher Real Salt)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

some wine, chicken or beef stock, tomato juice or water
(I used some very dry wine, and some apple cider to cut the dryness.)

On a chopping board, pat your lamb dry with paper towels and remove any excess fat. Finely grate about half the zest off the lemon and grind into a paste with the garlic, rosemary, oil, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle. Rub the paste all over the lamb. If you like, let it sit on the counter for half an hour or so, or refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors soak into the meat.

Put it into the CrockPot. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of liquid. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the top. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

For gravy: use a gravy strainer to strain out the fat. Either make a roux and use the liquid to round out the sauce, or set on a pot, and add some corn starch, plus a little milk.

Serve with some sort of potato-- we had some mashed, and it was delicious.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Some things

Some things are bigger than a paycheck.

I wrote this beginning line about a week ago, after finding it on a writing book in my classroom. It stuck with me, and now I see why.

This week, my principal called me in for a chat. That can be scary and unexpected. Frightening, really. Especially if you just got back from an extended trip where you had to miss two days of work. Where you missed a faculty meeting, and you really don't know what's going on. When you're running on three hours of sleep.

Basically, he asked me to take a different position within the school. Next year, instead of teaching ELA as I have for (almost) the past five years, he's asked me to teach an elective course: "An Exposure to Spanish and French Culture". I'm still reeling. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this yet, because I'm still reeling.

I find it ironic that this year, the year when I'm not aching for change about now, is the year I find myself in a change. Perhaps this is only me, but I can't help but see that God could work in this: how He could use it in my life, as well as the life of my students. I guess, in the back of my mind, I can't help but think this could be a very good thing.

I've got the cultural background to help me out- though granted, I'll have to do a lot more research for Spanish than I will for French. The French thing will mostly just be recalling what I've learned over the years. The Spanish will require me to learn a lot: language, culture, traditions, celebrations... and so on. Thankfully, that comes fairly easily to me. And thankfully, I found out from one of my administrators today that they did weigh in what I do in the classroom.

For me, this is a lesson in not defining yourself by your job. I resisted that, especially in the beginning, but I've also forgotten not to. I've been in a comfortable groove where I am: I love the team I'm on, I like teaching ELA, and I like where I work. This new position hasn't changed some things, but somethings will change: new curriculum (which I will be creating from scratch), new students, at differing grade levels. New planning period (one that I'll actually be able to use), new timings (I'm going from 90-minute blocks to 45). Twice the number of students, and then some. New classroom management techniques. (Drill seargent, anyone? Don't smile 'till...?) More students, less individual attention. New creative opportunities, new ways to incorporate things I care about: music, art, language, food, and cultures. It's always a trade-off.

One of my sisters thinks this just may be the best thing to ever happen to me. Right now, I can see it as either the best or the worst, depending on my frame of mind. But I also see it as a way for me to grow, a new way for me to surrender to the Lord.

But for now? Spring break is here. I'm planning on visiting my sisters, doing some sewing, reorganizing my closet and working on a project for class. I'm planning on relaxing and spending some time in the sun. I'm planning on living. Some things are bigger than a paycheck.

I've seen hard times and I've been told
There must be a reason for it all