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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southern Fried Old Birds

You know what they mean when they say an “old bird”. Some days I feel like one. Too much trouble to do a lot of cooking. After the kitchen and floors are clean you don’t feel like messing things up again. And besides, we are enjoying a lot of vegetables from our garden. So why heat and mess up the kitchen when you can eat a healthful meal without cooking. Nevertheless, on occasion I go to the trouble and make a time-consuming cooked dinner.
A recent night was one such occasion. A few days earlier we had stopped at the farmers’ market and supplemented our homegrown vegetable stash with some turnips, bell peppers and potatoes. And we bought a package of chicken quarters from a vendor we had not seen before: $22 worth of organic, free-range chicken pieces. The chicken pieces were frozen solid so we let them gently defrost in the fridge a couple of days.
Then I embarked on making that favorite from an old family recipe—fried chicken. My mother, although she never would have claimed to be a gourmet cook, could give old Colonel Sanders a run for his money. Her recipe was fairly simple, dip the chicken pieces in an egg batter and then in seasoned cracker-crumb and flour mixture.  To make the crust extra thick she usually double-dipped the pieces. And if you wanted to have the chicken tender as well as crispy, after frying the chicken crust to a golden brown you placed the pieces in an oven-proof pan and baked them for a bit.
I had to make a few modifications to the recipe to make it gluten free since I have celiac disease. But that was not an issue as I've adapted many recipes. This time I used a mixture of almonds and rice chex, seasoned with some fresh rosemary to boot, all ground into a nice crumb in the food processor. The egg wash was thinned with fresh buttermilk.
The chicken pieces were so numerous and the smell of chicken frying in the heavy cast-iron skillet so delectable I was tempted to make a few phone calls to see if I could round up some hungry friends who wouldn't mind the last minute invitation and mess of crumbs covering every surface. But some angel must have been on my shoulder as I resisted the urge.
When we sat down to eat our dinner of fried chicken, accompanied only by salads from the garden and baked potatoes, I couldn't wait to hear my husband’s reaction since it had been a long while since I’d made this favorite. Instead of “yum’s”, when I asked how he liked the chicken, he said “I haven’t been able to get a bite. We’re going to need steak knives.”
So we got out steak knives and tried to cut into the chicken. The little meat or tissue on the chicken, once you sawed through the chicken skin was so tough and fibrous it defied chewing. I tried to get a taste of one of the thighs. My husband tried three pieces and never found an edible bite.
I thought cock fighting was illegal in Kentucky. But these roosters must have given their lives in some combat. Or else they had died of old age and starvation. Their carcasses should have been buried, not sold. As Barnum reportedly said to Bailey, I guess I was one of those suckers.

We enjoyed my homegrown salad and baked potatoes. But we still had a crust-splattered stove, counters and floor, a large skillet and two baking pans to clean and a whole platter of inedible chicken to dispose of.  Next time I go to the farmers’ market I’m buying only from those farmers I know. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Have a Nice Flight or Fight?

I recently wrote about the “reclining controversy” on planes, “Reclining or Not, A Eureka Moment in Air Travel”, 9/2/14. Since I wrote that blog post, a total of three flights have been diverted over passenger disputes related to the reclining, or not, of seats.
Contrary to what has been claimed in the press, I did not believe that passengers suddenly had just gotten more surly and uncontrollable due to the stress of air travel. Though there’s no question air travel is stressful and unpleasant these days.
Rather, in my September 2nd post, I placed the blame for the recent spate of in-air fussing on the greed of the airline industry for cramming passengers like too many crayons into a box. I’m happy to report that I’m not delusional in believing the space allotted each passenger on planes keeps getting smaller.
According to Consumer Reports based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the airline industry is, to use Consumer Reports’ language, “shoehorning” us passengers into our seats these days.


Crowded flights and reclining seats don't always mix. Consumer Reports has tips on how to keep your cool at 36,000 feet.

Preview by Yahoo

The article notes that Ellen Bloom of Consumer Reports  goes on to say, “she is disturbed by media reports that frame these battles as problems between passengers, when in fact it's a no-win scenario deliberately created by the airlines. ‘It's like building a swing set in the middle of the street and then acting surprised when kids get hit by cars,’".

No wonder passengers are starting to fight over space. People like any other mammals, start to fight if you squeeze them too tightly together. Rather than announce: “sit back and relax”, the flight attendant should be saying, “squeeze in and hold your breath”. Maybe the flight attendant can come around with some knock-out pills instead of a beverage cart. Giving passengers drinks only provides something for us to throw at each other.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rabbit City or Blazer and the Bunnies

I never set out to live with rabbits. They just came.
We have a small, fenced yard with several enclosed or raised gardens. A vegetable and herb garden. A lavender garden, a sage garden, a parsley garden, and so on. We also have a couple of small statues in our yard. One of a bunny.
This year I don’t need a statute to see a rabbit in our yard. In fact, our yard is teeming with rabbits. This is the year of abundant, giant tomatoes and also an abundant supply of rabbits. But surprisingly, the multitudes of rabbits are not eating many of the tomatoes.
Early in the spring we spied a young bunny, casually eating the broad leaf of some type of weed that grows in our yard. We do not spray chemicals in our back yard, or on our small garden, so there are a lot of weeds. We thought the bunny was cute. And we were glad the bunny was eating weeds rather than our lettuce.
We figured the bunny and any hopping relatives or friends, would quickly scoot under or between the slats of our fence and be gone for good as soon as Blazer, our good-natured, 18 month-old collie, ran into the yard. Instead, this bunny headed towards our dog and sat under the forsythia bush inside the yard.
It became a daily game. The bunny would sometimes scoot out of the yard, apparently to tease Blazer into fits of barking as she sat just beyond the fence. Other times, this bunny, or another one, I can’t really tell the sex or identity of any one bunny, would run towards Blazer, then quickly scurry under a bush or an equally poor hiding place and wait until our dog was upon it to make a getaway under the fence surrounding the yard. We were not happy about the risky game bunnies were playing with Blazer but at least, as yet, no rabbit remains were found as a result of a bunny misjudging Blazer’s speed and hunting skills.
The heat of summer and abundant rain followed a cool spring and after a good lettuce crop, largely unmolested by rabbits, our herbs, tomatoes and peppers continued to do well. Soon the tomatoes threatened such an overabundance we were forced to seek new recipes and friends to find an outlet for our supply. I thought about putting out a small stand in our front yard. But we live in one of those neighborhoods where that would have resulted in a threatening letter from the neighborhood association. As well as a neighborhood-wide email warning against any such further vegetable stands.
The rabbits continued to frolic in our yard, in fact, throughout the whole neighborhood and the nearby park. But bunnies ate very few of our tomatoes. A bite here or there. Either they did not like our tomatoes or else they had some other abundant source of food.
In the dregs of summer we realized we had entered bunny nesting season.  Blazer furiously dug and barked under a bush close to the house. When we went out to check on him we discovered he had dug a little below the mulch to expose a number of tiny baby bunnies. He had not injured any of the bunnies so we left the babies in place.
My husband ingeniously devised fencing to keep our dog out but to allow the momma bunny in. That worked for a few days. Blazer was unhappy with the arrangement and spent any time he was allowed in the yard testing the perimeters of the bunny fence. We didn't want him to get a taste for rabbit so we limited his yard, and increased his walking, time in the park.  He did not get through the fence to inspect the bunnies up close again.
Then one day when we had friends over for brunch and Blazer had a few unsupervised minutes in the yard we discovered he was digging furiously in the lavender garden. He had dug all around one of the lavender bushes so that it sat cock-eyed. Running to the yard we pulled Blazer out of the lavender garden and inspected the place where he had been digging.
There, amidst the uprooted lavender branches, sat a very small bunny who was cowering and squeaking. We thought we’d gently put him back in the nest around which the protective fence still stood. But upon inspection that nest was now empty and apparently abandoned.
Not being bunny experts we improvised and dug a small hole in a mulchy area just outside the backyard fence. A place we thought momma bunny might have chosen if she had been a little smarter. The baby squealed as we carefully transported him with gloved hands, but settled down as soon as we added some lavender sprigs over the hole.
Meanwhile Blazer continued furiously digging in another area of the lavender garden. We tried to convince him the baby bunny was gone. But he knew better. As we looked in the area where he had been digging, we found another nest with many bunny siblings. We were not sure we could adequately fence this area. So we carefully dug them out and slid them into a large plastic cup filled with some of the nest coverings.
They all squealed as if we were Godzilla and they the Japanese tourists. But again, upon the addition of some lavender sprigs they settled down long enough for us to transport them the few feet to the nest we had just constructed outside the fence.
There’s a reason for the expression “dumb bunny”. I thought, if you live with rabbits for very long you see just how dumb they are. Why didn't momma bunny build her nest outside our fenced yard where Blazer couldn't go? Then I had another thought. Maybe momma bunny was the rabbit who had been playing games with Blazer all summer. Perhaps she trusted him to be gentle with her progeny and also keep cats and other predators away. In any event, we feared that whatever Blazer’s intentions were towards the baby bunnies, they would have been injured by Blazer’s big teeth and playful ways.
I don’t know what accounts for the abundance of tomatoes or dumb bunnies this year. I've resisted the urge to peak under the nest coverings. But now I see the babies starting to venture outside the nest a few inches. They look fat and well fed. Blazer barks at them furiously from the other side of the fence.
Much as I don’t really want another half dozen more bunnies running around our yard I’m happy momma bunny apparently has accepted her newly-constructed home and our efforts at relocating her brood. Since we aren't hunters, rather than enjoying hasenpfeffer in tomato sauce with oregano, we’re eating all manner of tomato-based dishes and hoping these bunnies go elsewhere when they are big enough, at least for awhile.

There’s one other lovely outcome for us. From all of his digging in the lavender garden to look for baby bunnies, Blazer, and our home, are as aromatic as a lavender bouquet. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reclining or Not, A Eureka Moment in Air Travel.

Recent travel-related news items caught my and a lot of people’s attention: the fight between passengers over leg space and reclining seats. See, for example,

(Two incidents between passengers on American flights over the right to recline their seats resulted in two diverted planes, one arrest and a heated, global debate.)

Please now allow me a short diversion, or circling of our destination, before I get to the topic of reclining seats.
I had been sitting at my keyboard trying to think of a eureka moment (or is that an eureka moment?) so I could write about it to enter a contest in a women’s magazine. Unfortunately, I've had no recent eureka moments. But thinking about the contest did cause me to think about my last true eureka moment, which came at about age seven.
I still remember the feeling—as if I’d been struck by lightning. Or by the seat back on an airline when the person in front of me reclined and smacked my knees.  Anyway, at the age of seven or so, like a sudden smack in the knee, it dawned on me that what adults were saying was not meant literally. I may have been a little slow until that point. Maybe I still am.
But at least since then I've know that God is not “up there” in church behind the stained glass windows. And when your guests say they are going “to hit the road” they are not going to go outside and slap the pavement. I've even progressed to the point of knowing that when someone tells you “the check is in the mail”, at best, they only mean they have an intention of paying you--sometime.
Getting  back on track to our destination, the reclining, or not, of airline seats, I’m firmly on the side of both travelers. I hate being squished in a seat where you can’t put your seat back. And I also hate having the person in front of me recline his or her seat. I've come away with bruises on my knees when a large passenger in front of me abruptly reclines the seat. Did I mention I have only moderately long legs? But they usually are touching the seat in front of me, even without the seat back reclined. No doubt because most airlines have crammed so many seats on their planes.
The only party in this little dispute with whom I do not sympathize is the airline industry. I expect they may use this recent incident to steal the “bright idea” of an economist who says we should negotiate for money over this space, essentially have the person behind us on the plane pay us to not recline.

I think the party who will make money from this idea is the airline industry. I can easily see them imposing another fee, as if there are not enough airline fees: an added charge for passengers who want to recline and/or to sit behind seats that do not recline. The airlines may even present this as a “safety fee” to keep passengers from fighting about the bit of space offered by reclining or not.
In addition to charging more fees for everything from checking to or carrying on luggage, food, drinks, pillows, headsets, WiFi, you name it, the airlines also are in the process of trying to squeeze more and more passengers into less and less space. Soon they will have us all standing up as we fly shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Such a “seat pattern” has even been proposed by some airlines. Why not just strap us to the roof of the planes? Mitt Romney did that with his Irish setter on his car. He says the dog loved it. Maybe we will too.
In our haste to our destination we should not overlook there is a eureka moment here. Probably the revelation hit the two arguing passengers, the pro-and con-recliners, sometime around the time the pilot announced he was landing in Chicago and they were tossed unceremoniously out on the tarmac.
What does one do then? Try to book a new flight to your destination? Will TSA let a passenger who just caused a plane to make an unscheduled stop back on another plane? Or does the still-angry passenger need to stand in line and try to rent a car? I wouldn't want to be in line with him or her at the car rental.
Maybe the kicked-off-the-plane passenger stands in another line for a restroom, looks in the mirror, and has a revelation. As miserable as air travel now is, it’s certainly got to be worse, stuck in Chicago’s O’Hara airport when that was not your intended destination.
Knowing that most of what adults say is not meant literally, even if they use the word “literally”, is still one of the biggest breakthroughs of my life in dealing with other people. When the airline says your plane will be on time, the airline hopes you enjoyed your flight, or that TSA security is keeping you safe, you know it’s a lot like saying “the check is in the mail”.  Good intentions at best.
But please, airline industry, and I do mean this literally, don’t come up with a plan to make all of us passengers stand up through the flights or strap us to the roof of the planes. Good intentions will not be good enough in the event you try to squeeze even one additional passenger or bag onto my flight.