Friday, May 28, 2010

A recipe for my favorite 12-minute dinner

1/4 sliced onion in rings
3.5 oz. Gimmee Lean Sausage style (1/4 package)
1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed/diced
1 4 oz can tomato sauce
Fresh ground pepper (black or red)
Goat cheese

1/4 pound uncooked pasta

Put on a pot of water to boil the pasta in.

While you wait for it to boil:

Saute onion slices in hot olive oil until soft
Add Gimmee Lean and garlic
Cook until faux sausage is crispyish
(Optional - add sliced or chopped mushrooms to the saute)
Add tomato sauce, capers to taste, fresh ground pepper and enough goat cheese to make creamy

In the meantime, cook pasta. Add frozen peas to pasta if you want to make a (nearly) one pot meal.

When pasta (and peas?) is done, drain and toss with the tomato/faux sausage/goat cheese mixture.


The whole meal takes about 12 minutes from start to end. Seriously.


I adapted this recipe from one called "Penne with Woodsman's Sauce," which was a fav of a former friend now affectionately called "Bad Steve." This was a friend who contributed to my, at the time, low self-esteem. I harbored ill feelings towards Bad Steve for a long time. I'm over it now. And I'm psyched to have this awesome, meat-free, healthy, hearty and filling pasta dish as evidence of the friendship.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Part 4: Co-opting the neighbors

"Hey guys! I need a favor. Do you want to hear more?"

The two Dennis the Menace clones who live next door, stop pulling beach gear out of the family minivan and looked at me. Their dad turns inquiringly.

"Did you notice we plowed a big strip of land in the backyard?" I ask.

"Uh huh."

"Can you guess what we're trying to grow there?" I continue.

"Flowers?" says the younger of the two uncertainly.


"Corn on the cob?" says the older one, the ring leader of the duo.

"Good guess, but that's not right either. You'll never guess, so let me tell you. Giant pumpkins!" Both kids leaned in with interest. "Yup, we're trying to grow pumpkins that might be as big as 400 pounds! Regular pumpkins are only maybe 15 or 20 pounds." I mimed lifting a big pumpkin. And then mimed trying to lift an even bigger pumpkin. "I need some help."

"What kind of help?"

"Well, I'm in charge of keeping rabbits and other animals away from the plants. And I wonder if you could help me keep kids in the neighborhood away from the pumpkins. Can you help me keep *other* kids from running on the plants and throwing balls on the plants?" (Here's the secret - these are the very same kids I'm worried will trample the pumpkins. I need them on my side to keep the plants safe.)

"Do you need us to keep birds away too? They can hurt plants."

"Good point. I'll be in charge of birds and rabbits. I really need your help keeping kids out of the garden. If you help I'll let you help carve a 400-pound jack-o-lantern," I say temptingly.

Dad, who encourages rambunctious behavior by organizing the boys "play" hunt neighborhood cottontails in the backyard, chimes in, "Well guys, that seems like a pretty good deal. Are you in?"

The older brother, with the poorly cut blond bowl cut says, "Yes!," while the younger brother opens his mouth to say more. He then simply nods, closes his mouth, and turns away.

The kids are hellions. I've had visions of them digging up the garden, playing soccer with the tender fruit, using their play machetes to tear apart the 3,000 square feet of vines, and building a fort in the giant squash should it mature to be big enough to play in.

I'll keep you posted on the saga of the neighborhood brats and the Great Pumpkin.

The Great Pumpkin Part 3: In the ground

I planted nine giant pumpkin plants last weekend. It may have been too soon to put them outside without a protective shelter, but I was afraid the tiny root balls were rotting. Why you ask?

About three weeks earlier I had repotted the seedlings into a larger pot temporarily because I was concerned the baby pumpkin plants had leached all of the nutrients from their seedling pots. And the larger pot, stolen from a gorgeous and coincidentally orange begonia, had bad drainage and the pumpkins were swimming in a slurry of enriched potting mix, Neptune's Harvest All-Natural Organic Fertilizer, and two weeks worth of water that hadn't been absorbed by the atmosphere of my home.

So, after working 30 quarts of cow manure into the freshly tilled soil, I transplanted the pumpkins outdoors. The plus side of the plants swimming in slurry was that they weren't root-bound. I smoothly eased each of the three clumps of pumpkins out of the pot they shared, dropped them into three freshly dug holes, and then scattered the soil slurry around the base of each freshly housed seedlings.

We've had two chilly nights, one rain storm, and several beautiful, temperate days. I've hand watered the plants twice.

I've examined the seedlings at length today. It appears as if one grouping is doing better than the other two. This group - made up of three plants - has fewer dried out leaves, more budding leaves/stalks out of the center of the plants, and was standing just a little taller.

I planted four watermelon plants nearby just to cover my bases in case none of the pumpkins survive.

Monday, May 10, 2010

#3 or "If I knew then what I know now"

CAUTION: This is a scatological - and mildly humorous - blog post. If poop stories aren't your thing then feel free to stop reading here.


I recently headed into the bathroom at my sister's house, immediately after one of her kids exited the room.

As I turned the door handle I received the following warning. "Aunt Clownface, I wouldn't go in there right away. I just did some #2 and #3."

"#3? What is #3?" I asked.

"Diarrhea. You know, #1 and #2 mixed together."

Deep breath. "Uh, diarrhea isn't #1 and #2 mixed together." Then I explained what diarrhea is.

Affronted the child responded, "THAT'S what diarrhea is? How come no one ever told me?"


One of my sisters used to carry a very tiny chip on her shoulder that our mom never "taught her that she needed to rinse conditioner out of her hair." My mom claims that she didn't want to point out my sister's greasy hair (which was made so by the unrinsed hair conditioner coating it) for fear of making her feel bad about what my mom thought was an unfortunate, temporary and unavoidable aspect of puberty.

Hearing my niece complain about never having been told what diarrhea is made up of reminds me that you can never predict what your child "needs" to know in order to live a fully informed life.

Good luck parents.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Say Yes to the Dress

"I am not getting a wedding dress. Instead I want a wedding bathing suit." So starts my niece, CMR, in reply to my mother who asked her if all of the women in her life could go with her to Kleinfeld's to pick out her wedding dress when she is ready to be married in 30 years or so.

To understand the genesis of this line of questioning posed to a 9-year old, one must go back in time 12 hours earlier to the Kohl's in Fayetteville, NY.

With CMR in the backseat, I was driving to my sister's house in rural NY to spend the night when I realized I had left my pajamas at my mother's house, now 15 miles away. I knew a pants-free sofa bed night with my other niece, the Divine Miss M, was unacceptable. So I told CMR we'd need to take a few minutes to stop so I could buy some pajama pants. So, at 8:47 PM we roll into the Kohl's parking lot and head in to buy a cheap pair of jammie pants.

After finding an acceptably soft pair of sleeping pants for under $15 we we were headed to the registers to check out when CMR was distracted by girlie dresses. This itself was odd. CMR is generally not a girlie girl. She makes fart noises in her armpits, wishes they dissected more things - really anything - at school, and claims she'd rather be friends with the kids everyone else calls 'nerds'. So the in-store detour from women's pajamas to party dresses for 'tweens was a surprise. I decided to roll with it (a) because there was nothing we HAD to be home for, and (b) I wanted to see what happened.

After 4 minutes of frenetic browsing she had two dresses over her shoulder - a flowy pink number with sequined flowers under the bodice, and a polyester white dress with an asymmetrical hem and lots of ruching. She turned to me and said, "Now can we try them on?"

"You want to try them on?" I replied, somewhat disbelieving. I've never known CMR to enjoy shopping for clothes, and she especially hates the trying on part.

"YES!" and she made a beeline for the dressing room. Aunt Clownface gamely followed, wondering what amazing thing would happen next.

She chattered with me like I was her best girlfriend as she slipped into the first dress. She curtsied, twirled, and primped in the mirror. But it wasn't the right dress - too big.

Next came the white dress, a polyester number with black straps and a built-in bolero jacket. The white dress transformed this tomboyish 9-year old, who entered the dressing room in faded lack yoga pants, kiddie-sized barn "muck boots," and a fleece jacket over a purple t-shirt with sequin butterflies on it.

She ogled herself in the mirror, gushed about how pretty she felt, and was inspired to play an extended air guitar set in the dress which ended with an impressive split.

She begged me to buy the dress for her.

We hadn't planned to stop at Kohl's, nor had we planned to buy a party dress. In fact, CMR has no parties on her size 8 agenda. But she loved the dress, and, more importantly, she loved herself in the dress. So we made a spit shake deal - she'd pay me half the cost ($22.40 marked down from $56) AND if her parents said "no" she'd have to return the dress.

All the way home, she said repeatedly "I hope they say yes to the dress! I hope they say yes to the dress! I hope they say yes to the dress."

We arrived home by 9:25 PM and CMR immediately asked if she could try on the dress for her parents. While she changed, under the supervision of her 6-year old sister, I explained the conditions of the spit shake to her mom and dad, and told them the story of the unexpected shopping trip.

Then, with a drum roll played out on my thighs, CMR was introduced to her parents in her fancy party dress. It was impossible to ignore her excitement, and they "said yes to the dress."

She wore the dress to mother's day brunch the next day. Everyone oohed and ahhed over CMR's fancy dress. Together, she and I relayed the story of the dress adventure to the gathered crowd. When we got to the part where CMR was praying her parents would "say yes to the dress," my mother interrupted and said, "CMR, when you get married, will you let EVERYONE come to Kleinfeld's with you to pick out your wedding dress?"

My sister smirked and said, "CMR doesn't want a wedding dress when she gets married. She has other plans. CMR, why don't you tell them your plans?"

"Well, I am not going to wear a wedding dress. I'm going to wear a wedding bathing suit."

All of the adults in the room cocked their heads quizzically.

"Go on CMR, tell them why," prodded her mother.

"Well, instead of having a wedding aisle, I'm going to have a Slip n- Slide. In my wedding bathing suit I'm going to SLIDE down the aisle, pop into my husband's arms, and then we'll kiss."

The adult heads remained cocked as my sister added, "This plan started out as a wedding via water slide."

"Yeah!" CMR continued enthusiastically. "I was going to go 'whoosh' down the water slide and at the end, in the pool, I would end up in my husband's arms and then we'd kiss and be married. My husband and I will have already built a beautiful house with an in-ground pool and that's where we'll have our party afterwards."

'nuff said.


I loved hearing my niece, who has fully entered the confusing world of pre-teens, chatter on about her ideal wedding plans. I love that she has these dreams, and they are so characteristic of a nine-year old mentality. I've never had wedding dreams that I remember and listened to her with the curiosity of a loving anthropologist. I loved being a catalyst in the chain of events that triggered her plans being revealed to her family, and being part of the circle that gave her a dress that made her feel so special.

Being an aunt is great.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The perfect gift for your favorite paranoiac!

Does your mother sleep with a knife under her pillow to attack bad guys who might sneak into her home while she's sleeping?

Is your brother-in-law actively preparing his family to fight back in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Does your partner maintain a list of things to worry about online?

If so your family is JUST like mine. And that's why I recommend that you consider purchasing the Zombie Table. This solid and attractive table features a small, circular table top almost impossibly cantilevered on a center leg resting on a reflective pedestal. The Danish modern style table will add to the decor in any home. And...when bad guy, zombies and bees strike, the table can be converted in two quick moves into a solid wooden shield and a bat that you can use to defend yourself and wound your enemies.

Consider buying one to give it to your mother to use as a bedside table so she can put away the knife and immediately reduce her risk of stabbing herself in the brain by 100%!

How about buying two for your brother-in-law to put by the front and back door to his home so he is ready should zombies ring the bell before they break in?

And increase the peace at home by buying one for your partner to strap to his scooter so he is ready for whatever perils the world has in store for him.

Tables are ready to be shipped immediately. Some assembly required, and the table comes with a helpful zombie fighting training video.

Search for "zombie table" online and get yours today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Great Pumpkin - Episode 2 (aka more questions than answers)

So I actually read, well skimmed really, the Giant Pumpkin Book. This is what I learned:

1. There is more to the exciting history of giant pumpkins that I have to learn. Things like the first giant pumpkin weighed in at like 400 pounds. The award winners are now weighing in at 1,400+ pounds. That's a lot of pumpkin.

2. Soil preparation is really important. I need to use manure and sea kelp plant food to enrich my soil.

3. Giant pumpkins can take up to 3,000 square feet of space. I cleared 180 square feet of space for the pumpkin plants. I need to plan for the pumpkins to take over the entire yard. Which still is not 3,000 square feet of space. I need to tell BMG I am taking over the backyard with pumpkins. I'll be standing in front of the mirror, practicing smiling broadly while I say: "Honey! I've got some awesome news. You don't need to mow the yard at all this summer! FTW!"

4. I have left the seedlings too long in their little seedling cups. I may be over watering my seedlings and they may not be getting enough food right now. (Last year my seedlings rotted on the vine because of the wet weather and my ignorance.) I need to work the sad 1.5 cubic feet of manure I bought into the pumpkin seedling prep areas, find and add the sea kelp food, and then plant these little sweethearts right away. But I'm going out of town this weekend and I don't want to plant them if I won't be home to check on them, and water them, and make sure the bunnies don't eat them. I'm anxious about the pumpkins and my ability as a giant pumpkin grower. One MORE reason I'm not a parent.

As this adventure evolves things I'm going to need to pay attention to include:
  • Fertilization of the flowers. Nature is SUPPOSED to get pollen from the stamen to the pistil, but if nature doesn't work I need to plan to fertilize by hand. Like IVF, but for pumpkins.
  • Trellising and burying the stalks to protect the fruit and encourage growth.
  • Fertilizing the fruit with more manure, more kelp and unprocessed compost (e.g. veggie trash)
  • Preventing the soil around my pumpkin from getting compacting by building board trails throughout the vine lands.
  • The pace and timing of the weight gain of my giant pumpkins. During the last 10-30 days of a giant pumpkin's growth it could gain as much as 25 pounds daily. The pumpkin should be ready by October 15th.
Things I'm now wondering about include:
  • Will the bunnies that eat my vegetables also try to eat the pumpkin? I know the kittens have been gnawing on the seedlings' leaves. Will bunnies like them too? What about the red foxes in the neighborhood? And the turkeys, ducks, and coyotes? What are the natural predators of giant pumpkins?
  • Speaking of which, how do I keep the obnoxious and violent rug rats who live next door away from the pumpkins? I may need to enlist them as partners in pumpkin care.
  • How am I going to get what could be an 800-pound pumpkin out of the backyard? If I can't get the pumpkin out of the yard my dream of an 800-pound jack o-lantern in the front yard may be for naught. Maybe I'll turn it into a carriage that can be rolled into the front yard? I may need to get an engineer on board with this plan.
  • Speaking of which, how will I gut and carve an 800-pound pumpkin? Has anyone ever done this? I'm thinking I need to begin planning the carving party sooner rather than later.
I'm going to sign off to take a Valium and practice my speech for BMG about the potential take-over of the yard by the pumpkin. More answers - and certainly more questions - later.