How I Spent My 2015

I failed my 2015 Reading Challenge.


By, like, a LOT.

I was 20 books short to be exact.

I mean seriously, I still haven’t even read Go Set A Watchman (which would have been my Book Published This (now last) Year).

But like any good failure, I have a multitude of excuses.  Let me tell you about my 2015.

(NOTE:  I’m going to talk about myself for a while.  You’re more than welcome to read it, but if you want to skip ahead to the bookish part of this post, I totally understand.  I’ll mark where you can come back in).

I started the year unemployed.  And I was really not in a good place.  My life was like one long, drawn out panic attack.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t eat (I mean, I could, because I kept getting fatter, but I didn’t enjoy it).  And I really couldn’t focus on any kind of printed material that wasn’t a job application.  This was around the time I was reading the Divergent series, and I often times found myself wishing I lived in a dystopian society (I mean, wouldn’t life be easier if it sucked for everybody?) Anyway, despite the fact that I was a 31-year-old with a college degree, I struggled through a series of YA fiction.  And I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read those books again…I’m afraid they’ll evoke that same panic-y feeling, and that is NOT something I want to revisit.  (Fortunately I can still enjoy the movies, because Theo James).


So, after many, many job interviews, I finally got a job in March.  Unfortunately, it was not a job I was proud of.  I don’t mean to sound snobby, but as a 31 (almost 32)-year-old with a college degree, my ego was pretty bruised when the only place that was willing to employ me was a deli (and not a like fun hipster, independently owned deli.  A corporate deli that made me take out my nose ring.  A deli that is so lucky that I signed an NDA barring me from talking about them by name online.  Not only did I have to really swallow my pride, but then they treated me like crap: nobody wanted to train me, there was no study material to help me learn the menu, the GM screamed at me on my second day in front of everyone, including customers. Life hint:  if you’re sitting in a job interview silently praying that they don’t offer you the job, you probably shouldn’t take it).

Then, a miracle.

A week after starting at this dumb restaurant filled with stupid jerks, I got a call.  I had interviewed for a job in January, and didn’t think I would hear back.  I was offered the job at the very end of March.  And I had zero reservations about this one.  Well, not zero.  I’m too neurotic to not stress at least a little.

So I finished out the week as a food service peon (because I’m a good person and didn’t want to screw anyone over), quit, and threw away my slip-resistant shoes.  Hopefully forever.

(Sidenote:  That deli never paid me.  So, if you’re reading this in the corporate office, just try to say anything about me alluding to you and your horribleness.  I worked for you for two weeks for effing free.)

Then came my birthday.  Should be fun right?  It was.  Better than the last couple at least.  But birthdays for me come with a lot of hurt feelings.  See, it’s been made pretty abundantly clear that to a lot of people in my life, my day’s just not that big of a deal.  I mean, not to sound like a brat, but if you demand that everyone bend over backwards for your birthday, it says a lot when you don’t do the same for others.  And I don’t demand to be the center of attention very often, so can’t I have one day where I get to feel special?  Why do I have to drive 3 hours to you on my birthday?  Why can’t I pick the restaurant?  Anyway, I could go on for days on this subject. I did have a good one this year, but there was a lot of anxiety leading up to it.

Also, my birthday, April 4th, was the first day in all of 2015 that I had a meal with another human being, so I was pretty lonely, too.

So I was pretty excited about this new job.  But I soon discovered that the hiring process takes FOREVER.  Like I said, I interviewed in January.  I was offered the job in March.  I started in MAY.  I gave up on this job at least 3 times before I was finally given a start date.

Also occurring far too frequently around this time:  Tornadoes.  Floods.  Locusts.  El Nino.  So there was that, too.

Started my job.  Loved it.  Still do.  Buuuuttt, it’s only part-time.  A full-time position has been mentioned from time to time, but it looks like it’s going to be a while.  So I had to find another job.  Eventually I did.  But I was hired as seasonal.  Long story a little less long, I think they’re keeping me, but the holidays were busy, and stressful, and uncertain, and I’ve been tired a lot.

At least 2016 is starting better than 2015 (although I don’t think I’ve dined with anyone yet this year).

(Those of you not interested in my sob story: You can start reading again).

The point of all this is, I struggled with some pretty heavy emotions in 2015.  I started 3 jobs (plus I’ve done some tutoring).  There are a lot of times when reading is a great refuge from the realities of life.  But there are also times when you’re just incapable of focusing.  I think the fact that, through all of this, I was still able to read 32 books is still impressive.  But I’ve decided to go easy on myself in 2016.  My Goodreads challenge is set at 26 books.  I’ve also decided I’m going to try not to buy any books this year (although this does not include acquiring books via gifts, or giftcards, or prizes…).  And if I only read 15 this year, I’ll be okay with that, too.  Books need to lived in, not rushed through.  I have a nasty little habit of turning everything into a chore, and that’s something I need to work on.    It’s time to relax.

Now, that I’ve vented…let’s get to the books. Hopefully the second half of this post will be more fun than the first.

Starting with the bad:

LEAST FAVORITE BOOK:
Anthology Complex by M.B. Julien
This self-published tome had almost 4 stars on Goodreads, and the reviews all said to stick with it.  So I did.  He kept talking about all these murders happening in his town (unspecified, but for some reason I think it was somewhere in South Africa).  I kept reading through these ramblings, waiting for the twist (that the narrator was the killer, of course), but there was no plot twist (I guess it’s hard when there’s no plot), it was just the ramblings of an apparent stoner.

LEAST FAVORITE SERIES:
This should go without saying, but 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Yeah, it’s hot and all, but Christian Grey talks too much.  Which is even more of a problem when the dialogue is beyond terrible.  This also wins the prize for SERIES I HATE MYSELF MOST FOR READING.

BOOK OR SERIES THAT CAUSED THE MOST SEVERE PHYSICAL REACTION:
It’s a tie.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells


I got up one Saturday morning and decided to take a long, hot bath with this book.  Two hours later, I’m still in the (now cold) tub, literally sick from crying so hard.  But it was super cathartic.
Grey by E.L. James
When he described something Ana said as “music to my dick,” I gagged.  I actually gagged.  I didn’t quite throw up, but I was damn close.  This was a glimpse into the male mind that I DID. NOT. NEED.

MOST DISAPPOINTING REREAD:
Jemima J by Jane Green
There are so many things wrong with this story, not the least of which being how enamored I was with it in my early twenties.  It kind of perpetuates the idea that fat shaming is okay, because it’s “for their own good.”  Not to mention the fact that the height/weight ratio of the title character would not really make her all that big.  And not to sound basic, but, ladies, if a man doesn’t want you at your worst, he doesn’t deserve you at your best.  AND this book basically glorified anorexia.  All around a terrible, dangerous message.
However, the stuff about Jemima learning how to use the internets is hilarious.  How far we’ve come.


BOOK THAT TOOK THE LONGEST TIME TO READ:


Literary Fort Worth ed. by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee
Technically I started this book in 2011.  Then put it away for awhile, and started over this year.  Since it was a compilation of short stories, I read it concurrently with other books throughout the year.  My favorite part was seeing different authors takes on the same thing, like the descriptions of Christmas shopping in Downtown Fort Worth (at Leonard’s Department Store…long before my time).  Plus, my hometown has a pretty interesting history.

BOOK THAT TOOK THE SHORTEST TIME TO READ:
Not sure which, but one of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris I read in a day.  Like the TV series, they’re fun and funny and campy and easy to read.  It’s funny.  Watching the series, I was team Bill, or maybe Alcide, but reading the books, I’m hard-core shipping Sookie and Eric Northman.


FAVORITE COUPLE:
This is tough, but I think I’m gonna have to go with:
Tommy and Jodi from the A Love Story Trilogy by Christopher Moore
If the series had ended at Divergent, and there not been the aforementioned extenuating circumstances, I might be saying Tris and Four here (again, mostly because Theo James). And there was always Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy (ahh, Mr. Darcy…).  But Christopher Moore’s characters have the most realistic relationship (despite the fact that they’re vampires).  Tommy Flood is only 19 to Jodi’s 28, and very naive, but when he finally decides to man up, it’s pretty hot.  Speaking of this series:


FAVORITE VAMPIRE SERIES:
Sorry, Sookie.  I love the Love Story Trilogy (the actual titles are Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, You Suck: A Love Story, and Bite Me: A Love Story).  They are riotously funny, almost to the point of being a really good parody.  But there’s still a coherent story, and while I was usually laughing out loud, I got a little teary-eyed on a few occasions, too.

FAVORITE TRUE CRIME BOOK:
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
While this one was more White City and less Devil than I would have liked, Larson made even the architecture stuff interesting.  And while Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me is probably one of the most unique true crime books there is (she started writing it even before she knew that the killer was her friend and former co-worker Ted Bundy), it often times felt a little disingenuous.


 FAVORITE FAKE CRIME BOOK:
The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns
It’s the only fake crime book I read, really, but, as far as mysteries and thrillers go, it was pretty satisfying.

FAVORITE BOOK BASED ON MARILYN MONROE:
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
(The other option being After the Fall by Monroe’s ex-husband Arthur Miller.  Widely regarded as his worst play).  Oates is pretty much my favorite author, and this book was good, but it was hard to read, and LOOOONNNNG.  And I was disappointed to see that she re-used a lot of the unconventional writing styles (no character names, using ampersands, run-on sentences to indicate mania, etc.) that had made one of my favorite books of hers, Zombie, so good.  But, as usual, everything works, and the language is beautiful.  Case in point:

FAVORITE QUOTE:
“This doctor says there are miracle drugs now
to control the ‘blues.’ I said, oh if the
blues go, what about blues music? He asked
is the music worth the agony & I said that
depends upon the music”
From Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates


BOOK YOU SHOULDN’T JUDGE BY IT’S MOVIE:
The Ya-Ya Series by Rebecca Wells
As I said before, this was pretty gut-wrenching, but also funny, and in general made me wish I had a group of girlfriends like the Ya-Ya’s (mostly because those women could fight and stay friends.  Which hasn’t been my experience).  It also made me crave a Bloody Mary and some Cajun food.  While I might get flayed for saying this (or at least called an idiot behind my back), I didn’t hate the movie.  But, in real life, things are not tied up with a ribbon after two hours, and the books acknowledge this better than the movie did.  It’s realness is what made it so good.

BOOK WHOSE MOVIE I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT:


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Didn’t love this book.  I sometimes felt like Grahame-Smith just randomly and arbitrarily replaced certain words with “zombie” or “undead.”  But there was a “balls” joke in there that killed me.  Hopefully that makes the film, which looks pretty amaze-balls.

MOST REALISTIC POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD:


The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Everyone thinks the end of the world’s gonna be all factions and hunger games and The Walking Dead.  But when someone asks me how I’m going to survive the apocalypse my answer is always, “I won’t.”  And I really have no desire to.  This was a story about when the end of days stops being fun and starts getting real.
P.S.  I discovered that I like punctuation and chapter breaks, and strongly dislike when books don’t include them.

FAVORITE “THINGS I FIND IN BOOKS” THING:
In Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm (another great non-fiction about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane), every page I wanted to dog-ear was already folded.  The person who owned the book before me was clearly my soulmate.


And finally…

FAVORITE BOOK OF 2015:

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Yeah, right.  I can’t answer that.

 

Follow my 2016 Reading Challenge on Instagram.  Look for #MaggieLeighReads2016

https://www.instagram.com/maggieleighb4483/

 

“Cowtown” Dog

It’s World Series time (even though the wrong teams are playing), and nothing, and I mean NOTHING goes better with baseball than a cold beer…

…and a hot dog.

(And, okay, maybe this would be better suited to a hot day in July than a rainy night in almost November, but, hey…I gotta get my baseball grub on while I can.  It’s a long four months until Spring Training).

But sometimes I get bored with just a plain old Ball Park Frank (or, if you’re a Texas fan like me, a Nolan Ryan-brand hot dog) with the regular accoutrements.  Sometimes, I want to fancy it up.  On the other hand, I still want to know I’m eating a hot dog.

What’s a girl to do?

So, awhile ago, I found this recipe for candied jalapenos (also known as “Cowboy Candy”).  I won’t link to the recipe, simply because my review of them is slightly less than glowing.  Basically, the flavor was great, but they were way too sweet.  So until I’ve perfected that recipe the way I want it, I’ll just advise you to search “Candied Jalapenos” or “Cowboy Candy” on Pinterest, and pick the one that sounds best (and suggest that perhaps you cut back on the sugar…this particular recipe was just kind of lacking balance).  I’ve also seen Cowboy Candy in a couple of grocery stores, but not often, and it was pretty expensive.  When it’s good, it’s worth the cost, but it’s not difficult to make, and definitely worth the effort, too.

Cowboy Candy

Cowboy Candy

One other thing:  if you do decide to make it, listen to the experts and WEAR GLOVES.  I was so careful when slicing the jalapenos, but my fingertips were still burning for DAYS after.  Latex gloves.  SERIOUSLY.

Anyway…I thought the Cowboy Candy would be good on a hot dog.  But I needed all the other elements to be savory, to balance all that sugar.

Something like…fajita onions.

Fajita Onions

Fajita Onions

See all that charred delicious burnt-y goodness?  That’s what you want.  Fajita onions are sautéed, like caramelized onions, but instead of low and slow, you want them to cook hot and fast, and in big, thick slices. For cooking these, cast iron is best.  Bonus points if that skillet’s right on the grill (or over a campfire).

Next, I wanted something creamy, with a little tang (ugh…I sound so douchey.  Sorry). I’ve been making this creamy Dijon-mustard sauce since I was a kid (it’s great with Buffalo Chicken).

Ancho Dijon Mustard Sauce

Ancho Dijon Mustard Sauce

Just mix mayo and Dijon mustard (if you’re serving this to real cowboys, or anyone like my Franco-phobic family, don’t, I repeat DON’T say it’s Dijon…just call it mustard).  And I don’t know why oregano makes it taste so good, but it does.  Make sure you crush it between your hands to release the flavor.  Finally, a little chile powder gives it a good kick, and smoky ancho chile powder is a good complement to the charred onions and grilled hot dogs.

Speaking of grilled hot dogs…the next step is to…grill your hot dogs.

Since this is a “Cowtown Dog,” you kinda have to use all-beef hot dogs.  Fancy sausages (especially jalapeno flavored) or hot links are great, too.

I had a dilemma here…a sort of culinary love triangle, if you will.  I had to choose between one of two men.

Weber:

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Or Foreman:

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I could go with the Weber, and have that delicious charcoal taste.

Or I could use the Foreman, and be done in less than 2 hours.

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In the end, I chose George.  I just didn’t want to start a whole fire for six hot dogs.

So, once everything’s all cooked and ready, arrange it on a rustic wooden cutting board and take a heavily filtered photo, like a pretentious asshole blogger:

Cowtown Dog Setup

Cowtown Dog Setup

Then put it all on some bread and stuff it into your face.

How the hell do you make a hot dog look pretty?

How the hell do you make a hot dog look pretty?

It was pretty delicious.  And I got to thinking…Fort Worth kinda needs a “signature” food item.  This is a great culinary town with great restaurants that don’t get the respect they deserve (sidenote:  FW locals…support those local restaurants. We’ve lost too many awesome places because you’re all opting for the established chains.  Also, if you’re not from here…COME SEE US!  It’s not just cowboys and the stockyards!  We have some world-class museums and great food). So I’m starting a petition to make this the “official” hot dog of Fort Worth.  Why not?  Chicago and New York both have a hot dog.  So do Seattle, Baltimore, and Denver.  Thanks to The Simpsons, so does Albuquerque.  Even Austin has its own dog (it’s chili, corn chips, cheese, tomatoes, green onions and jalapenos).  Let’s put Fort Worth on the hot dog map!

Or….

To the powers that be over at Globe Life Park…this could go on the menu with the Boomstick and the Choomongous.  I know! Since he’s from Fort Worth (I love my hometown, and I’m not sorry!) it could be the Yovani Gallardo Dog!

GASP!

Oh my God, ya’ll!

THE GALLARDOG!

Just a suggestion.

(That’ll be one million dollars, please.  Or lifetime season tickets.)

Garden Gnome Elvis Andrus approves.

IMG_3330

Cowtown Dog

1 pkg. beef hot dogs, sausage, or hot links
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 tbsp. oil
1/4 cup mayo
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ancho chili powder
Candied jalapenos, with juice
hot dog buns

  1.  Sautee onions on medium high to high heat in skillet until they are slightly charred, then reduce heat to medium and cook until soft.
  2. in a small bowl, mix mayo, mustard, oregano, and ancho chili powder.
  3. Grill hot dogs according to package directions.
  4. Spread hot dog buns with mustard sauce.  Top with dog, then onions, and jalapenos.  If desired, top with extra mustard sauce and drizzle with juice from jalapenos.

Hope you like it!

Sorry for totally getting drunk while writing this.

Chimi, Chimi, Chimi…


Quickie post.

I’m kind of obsessed with Chimichurri sauce lately (Chimichurri is a bright, tangy Argentinian green sauce usually made from cilantro and/or parsley and some other delicious crap…I’ll get to that later).

It’s good on almost EVERYTHING!

Chicken…yep.


Steak…obviously.


Veggies?  Of course.


“But, Maggie, surely it’s not good on something sweet like, I dunno, watermelon?”

You’re wrong. It’s good on that, too!


I would make it literally every day, if I didn’t hate my food processor. (PS…Christmas is coming.  Hint, hint.)

All you do is process parsley, cilantro, a shallot, LOTS of garlic, and crushed red pepper, drizzling oil until it’s nice and smooth. Add some salt.


 Add the apple cider vinegar. Or don’t.  I’ll be honest, for marinating meats, I’d rather either substitute lime juice or eliminate the vinegar all together.  Purists will tell you “it’s not a true Chimichurri without the vinegar.”  And that’s why you purists don’t ever get invited anywhere.

Anyway, while I’m sure I could bottle and sell this stuff and build a billion dollar Chimichurri empire, I’m sharing with you…for free.  Change it up how you like it (for example: I like food so spicy it’s barely edible, but if you don’t, cut back on the red pepper.) Enjoy!

CHIMICHURRI

1 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup or more olive oil
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (or to taste)

In a blender or food processor, blend herbs, garlic, shallots, and red pepper.  With blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency.  Salt to taste.  Add vinegar, also to taste.  Chimichurri will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

Try it this Sunday for National Taco Day (aka, the best day of the year).

And show me how you use it!  I want to see your pics!

Ban This!

All my banned books.

These books have all been banned.

“…it’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written.  the books that will never be read.  And all due to the fear of censorship.  As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

–Judy Blume

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE AND SPOILERS!  (But they’re Harry Potter spoilers.  You really have no one to blame but yourself.  Statute of limitations, dude.)

It’s Banned Books Week, y’all!

So, because I’m just a tad on the obsessive side (and because I’m avoiding doing laundry), I went through a list of 300 banned books, and pulled all the ones I currently own (okay, not ALL of them.  I restrained myself to only one per author). You know.  For the photo op.  But I was a little disappointed by what I found (or, more accurately, didn’t).

  1.  Only 24?  Granted, I had a lot of books by authors who had been banned, just not those particular banned books, as well as a lot of books in anthologies.
  2. Where the hell is my copy of The Grapes of Wrath?
  3. As much as my dad gushed about how much he loved The Lord of the Rings, and how he always claimed that the movies were exactly what he envisioned when he read the book, he didn’t even OWN the damn book? Sigh.
  4. I’m a little embarrassed at how few of these books I’ve actually read.  I really need to stop buying books.  Maybe my 2016 Reading Challenge should be to only read books I already own.  Ahahahahaha…I’m totally kidding.
  5. How in the world is it possible that I do not own Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? I love Judy Blume, I often wonder about the existence of a higher power, and….MY NAME IS MARGARET FOR FUCK’S SAKE! (Sidenote: I suspect I do have that book, and it is where all of my childhood books have ended up: Arkansas).
  6. Somebody needs to dust my bookshelves.

Anyway, on a more serious note, I love that Banned Books Week is a thing.  I’ll be honest, the concept of banned books wasn’t really something I thought about much.  There may have been TV shows and movies I wasn’t allowed to watch, but I don’t ever, EVER remember being told I couldn’t read a book.  It didn’t even really ever occur to me that it would be an issue.

And I am so grateful for that.

Recently, I read an article that discussed rereading books from our youth as adults.  The question was, “Is there a book you read too soon?”  In other words, did you realize upon rereading it that this book had been wildly inappropriate for you to read at the age you were the first time?

Summer Sisters

I was 15 when Summer Sisters by Judy Blume was released in 1998.  I read about it in a magazine and promptly went out and bought it.  Couple things: First, SS is not on any banned books list I could find, but Judy Blume most certainly is.  Second, I’m aware that it would not have been outside the realm of possibility for a 15 year old girl to understand a lot, if not everything, that was discussed in this book.  however was very naive, and a lot of what I read was new to me.  So new, in fact, that I had to make a list of all the dirty words (and some that only sounded dirty).  Here’s what the list looked like:

“Fellatio”, “cunnilingus”, “vibrator”, and “percolator” written on a piece of wide-ruled notebook paper, with room enough left between each for the definitions (like it was vocabulary homework).

I never filled in those definitions.  I was disgusted by the first two, and swore never to do either (oops).  I did know what a vibrator was, and what purpose it served, but I wanted to know what one looked like (for some reason, I imagined something that looked similar to an old-fashioned Geiger Counter).  As far as my not knowing what a percolator was at 15…I know.  So embarrassing.

That list ended up getting taped to the inside of the book jacket.  I felt…well, that book made me feel a lot of things.  And it felt do deliciously scandalous to read.

It got even better after I loaned it to my best friend.  I had someone to share it with now, someone who felt the same about it as I did.  It was our secret, and we were kind of obsessed.  Bru was our equivalent of Christian Grey-and we were both in love.  And we imagined being in the movie-she would be Vix, and I would play Caitlin (despite the fact that she was blonde and beautiful, like Caitlin Summers, while I, the gawky brunette, was far closer to Vix).

I realize now that, in 1998, Judy Blume had been writing for almost 30 years, and I’m sure our parents had some notion of the subject matter. We weren’t fooling anybody.

But what’s special about Summer Sisters is how it has endured in my life.  I’ve reread it every two or three years for the last 17 years, more than half my life.  It’s certainly lasted longer than that best friend did.

And every time I read it, I get something new out of it. When we read a story, we see it through the unique lens of our own individual experiences, so no two people ever read the same book, and maybe no one person ever reads the same book twice. Like how differently you read Harry Potter after you knew why Snape killed Dumbledore. Summer Sisters was a different book after my first love, and again after my first time, and again after graduating college.  I hope that marriage and children are still in my future, and that I can go back and read it again as a mother.  Is it the best book I’ve ever read?  Quite frankly, no.  But it’s almost like a sense memory, like when you hear a song, or smell something that transports you back to another time.  Every time I read that book, I remember what it felt like to be 15, not a girl, not yet a woman (hashtag: obligatory Britney Spears lyric).

I was talking to my mom about that “book you read too soon” article, and I told her about “the list.” Turns out, she knew.  She somehow managed to read the whole book without me knowing.  I asked if she thought I was too young for it then, and, basically, she told me she didn’t care, as long as I was reading.  I’m lucky to have had parents like that.  I know so many people who just blindly believe everything their parents taught them: about religion, about politics, about everything.  People who can’t tell you why they believe what they believe.  I was raised to form my own opinions. I had to: I had one liberal and one conservative parent (for the record, that may not be great for a marriage, but, in my opinion, it might not be so bad for the kids).

So, here’s where I tie this long-ass post about a book that was apparently not banned into my banned-books post.  Don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t read.  If you do nothing else, don’t censor yourself.  Read something that offended someone.  Hell, read something that’s going to offend YOU.  Read a book by or about someone from a different demographic. I’m a straight white woman.  I just added How To Be Black and Tipping the Velvet to my Goodreads “to read” list.  And if you’re a parent, don’t censor your kids.  That they’re reading is just as important as what they’re reading.  If you’re worried, read it too.

And Mom,

Thanks for letting me read what I wanted.

And thanks for not telling me you found the list.  I would have been mortified.

PS.

Judy Blume was on Seth Meyers a couple weeks ago.  Go watch it.  She’s delightful.

French Onion Grilled Cheese

I don’t know what it is, but I LOVE to make soup.  Maybe it’s that each step gets progressively easier as you go along, or that there’s lots of downtime while stuff simmers.  Whatever it is, I love to make soup.

However, I don’t actually like to eat soup that much.  It’s just not something I crave.  For one thing, I live in a climate where we have soup-eating weather MAYBE 17 days out of the whole year.  But soup recipes also are not really geared towards single-person cooking (unless you really like eating the leftovers for days).  So I’ll make a batch of soup, eat one or two bowls, and then be over it.

The one exception is French Onion…I freaking love French Onion Soup (FOS).

FOS was one of the first things I cooked for myself when I first got my own place and really started cooking.  I bought this “Food of France” cookbook, and FOS was the very first recipe.  It turned out really well, and I was so proud of myself.

(Okay, I’ll admit, my love for FOS probably has more to do with the crouton and melted cheese on top than the actual soup.)

So, I was craving FOS yesterday.  Real bad.

And, it’s October in Texas, so it was, of course 97 degrees outside.  Not soup weather.

But it’s ALWAYS grilled cheese sandwich weather!

I know I’m not the first person to try this, and I could have easily looked up a FOGC recipe on Pinterest, but I thought I’d try to use my own imagination.  If it doesn’t work? There’s always pizza.

(Oooh…French Onion pizza…)

First thing I did was make a garlic-thyme compound butter:

Garlic Thyme Compound Butter

Mix one stick softened butter, 2-3 cloves garlic (I love garlic) and the leaves of a few sprigs of thyme.  You might want to double this, since it’s good for other things too.  Roll it into a log in plastic wrap, then refrigerate or freeze for a few hours.  It’s not really necessary to chill, but you need to make it far enough in advance that the flavors meld.  It will have to softened for the sandwich, so chilling the butter immediately might just be an extra step.

Garlic Thyme Compound Butter

Now you’re ready to French your onions.  Wait…well, you know what I mean.  Thinly slice one yellow onion (I like yellow onions better than white…they’re just a bit sweeter).  Melt a couple tablespoons of that compound butter in a nonstick pan over medium-low to medium heat (depending on your stove), then add your onions.

YummyIMG_1488

Don’t rush the onions.  Just let them hang out and cook, low and slow, stirring occasionally, as long as they need.  My aforementioned “Food of France” cookbook says this will take 25 minutes (on low heat).  My “Food of France” cookbook is a liar.  My onions took an hour.  It really depends on what kind of stovetop you’re working with.  Just be patient.  You want them caramelized, not charred.  They’re ready when they smell sweet and buttery and look like this:

French Onions

Once the onions are cooked, add a splash of Sherry Cooking Wine or chicken broth and cook until evaporated.

Now grate your cheese…I used a smoked Gruyere.  I would actually have preferred regular Gruyere (I don’t love the smoky flavor) but they didn’t have it, and the smoked actually blended really well in this recipe.

CHEEEEEESE!

I mixed the cheese and the onions together, just so I could be sure they were nice and blended.  Then I took some more of that softened compound butter and spread it on both sides of two pieces of bread.  This is just regular white bread, and my only regret about this recipe (and what I’ll do next time) is that I didn’t use a nice sourdough.  I think that would have been delicious.

I was tempted to eat it just like this.

I would suggest you assemble your sammich IN a preheated skillet, because it was difficult to move.  Either way, top one slice of bread with onion/cheese mixture, then second slice of buttered bread.

IMG_1494

Cook in covered skillet for however the hell long you’re supposed to cook a grilled cheese (Confession:  I burned the first side.  Oops.  The second side was perfect, and the sandwich was still great).

IMG_1496 IMG_1495

FRENCH ONION GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH
MAKES:  1 SANDWICH

INGREDIENTS:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
1-2 Tbsp. thyme
salt, to taste
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
Splash sherry cooking wine or chicken broth
4 oz. Gruyere cheese
2 slices bread

  1. Make compound butter:  Mix softened butter, garlic, and thyme in medium bowl.  Salt to taste.  Spoon into plastic wrap, wrap, and form into a log.  Refrigerate or freeze until solid.
  2. Cut off about 4 tablespoons from log of compound butter.  Set 2 tablespoons aside and allow to soften.
  3. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons compound butter in skillet over medium-low to medium heat.  Add onion, salt to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and brown, anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on your stove.  When onions are desired color, add a splash of sherry cooking wine or chicken broth, and cook until evaporated.
  4. Grate 4 oz. Gruyere cheese.  Add onions to cheese and mix well.
  5. Spread reserved compound butter on both sides of 2 slices of bread.  Assemble sandwich in skillet preheated to medium.  Working quickly, top one slice with onion and cheese mixture, then with remaining bread slice.
  6. Cook sandwich in covered skillet, 3-5 minutes per side, watching very carefully to avoid burning.
  7. Remove from skillet and enjoy!

I hope you like it!  I really thought this tasted just like French Onion Soup, and it really satisfied my craving.

Of course, after as hot as it was yesterday, it’s now rainy and cold and perfect soup weather outside today.

I would love to hear how yours turned out or any suggestions you might have to improve this recipe.  This is my first time writing a recipe that I came up with on my own, so please be gentle.  🙂

National Poetry Day

Let me just say, I am not someone who sits around writing poetry all day.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you are).  I like reading poetry, it’s just too much work to write, and I kind of believe that there’s very little gray area between really good poetry and really bad.

The fact is, I probably never would have written any poems had they not been assigned to me in school.  When I was preparing to take Creative Writing in college, the fact that there was a mandatory poetry section made me question whether or not to take it at all.  But I did end up taking it (my last semester, like an idiot), and loving it, of course.  The poetry section of the course was first.  And I struggled, just as I had expected (though not as much as expected).  I had to write three poems, one structured (and yes, my first idea for a structured poem did start with “There once was a man from Nantucket…”).

Not only did I get an A on my poems (I just found my evaluation from the professor, and she said, “Your writing is lovely.”  I think I need that framed above my computer),  but the professor told me I HAD to take the advanced Creative Writing classes the next semester (idiot!).   AND, if I’m being honest, these three poems are the work from that class I’m most proud of (although my fiction did include image patterns and unconventional symbolism…but that’s another post for another time).

For some reason, I’ve been patiently waiting for someone to ask to see these.  I’m realizing that that’s not ever going to happen.  So, in honor of National Poetry Day, here are the last three poems I’m ever going to write (probably).

(I’m leaving the titles off, because: 1. I hate them and they’re stupid and 2. I’m curious to see if anyone can figure out what the third one is about.)

Typewriter Love

1.

Just before my Great-Grandmother died
She began to speak in tongues.  Those
Who were with her recalled
Her song as the most beautiful ballad
They had ever heard:  bittersweet
Soft, but strong; a signal of the end.

Alone in my beat-up Jeep
Two months later, driving to Ada
For the funeral, I focused
On not getting lost.  The traffic thinned
Just out of Ardmore, and I was almost alone
On the road when I came upon a dead-end.

A dense row of bare trees lined
The turnpike, blocked the horizon
Behind them.  A jagged black line
Against the red sky–the same color
Of the namesake Pansies my Great-
Grandmother had once grown.

It would be dark soon, and I didn’t know
How close I was to the end.

 

2.

 

By 3 a.m., only three of us were left
On the patio, under the silver Christmas lights
Brighter in the whiskey-haze.  We drank
Johnny Walker Black from plastic cups.
When the telephone trilled from inside,
You and I were alone.  We sat in silence
And I thought, on paper, you’d seem
Pretty good:  attractive, smart, and nouveau riche
To boot.  If only you’d trade in your trailer,
Quit drinking, quit smoking, quit snorting.
Then you said, “you always seem so sad,”
And “I know there are so many things
You want to say but can’t.”  And I wondered
How someone, barely lucid, never sober,
Some satellite friend who appears only every six months
Can know me better than those I’m closest to.  You asked
All the right questions.  But as everything I had held
For so long rose up from my stomach, through my chest,
Up to my throat, and into my mouth, ready to pour
It all on you, the door opened.  No longer alone,
Our conversation lost, forgotten, I washed my words
Back down, and chased them with whiskey.

 

3.

 

Moments to curtain an urgent voice pressed
An anxious audience to private rooms
While brave ones stood at windows looking west,
Black night concealing what would be there soon.

Bells chimed in darkness, a quiet omen:
A calm, cold breeze interrupting stillness.
Then sirens’ symphony of violins
In harmony–a city held its breath.

The thunder roared from the drum section
As lights flashed hot:  blue, silver and white.
The street names became stage directions,
A violent wind descended from the sky.

Then calm returned as one last gale wind blew.
The curtains closed:  nature’s ballet was through.

Another Baseball Rant

It’s been a rough season.

Really rough.

But, as a die-hard Rangers fan (and apparent masochist), I’ve still watched almost every single game. And if I wasn’t watching, I had my phone close so I wouldn’t miss an update.

Even under the best of circumstances, I (and a lot of other Rangers fans I know) hate, Hate, HATE watching national broadcasts of Rangers games. I’ve said it before: Major League Baseball, ESPN, Fox Sports ALL despise Texas. Follow MLB on Twitter and you’ll see: anything positive that happens for another team against Texas gets glorified to epic proportions. But if the Rangers do well? Nothing.

So, national broadcast games are basically like watching the opposing team’s local coverage. It’s the worst.

So here’s where I’m going with this: tonight is one of those national games: Yankees at Rangers. I considered muting the tv and listening to the radio broadcast. But, to be honest, the delay kills me, and I’m not in the mood for it tonight.

Texas is up 4-1 when starting pitcher Nick Martinez gets himself into a jam, gives up two runs, has runners on first and second,and Ron Washington decides to take him out (for the record, this is only Martinez’s second game off the DL (with no rehab assignment) and he had thrown about as many pitches as Wash said he would be allowed anyway).

And this national announcer who shall remain nameless (let’s just say it rhymes with Toe Muck), who has already been pissing me off all night with his over-excitement for the Yanks and under-education of the Rangers, says something to the effect of, “If I was Ron Washington, I would let Martinez stay in, see if he could get himself out of this jam. It’s not like Texas is going to win the division.”

I am furious.

Yes. He’s right, Texas isn’t going to win the division. They’re not going to get a wild card spot. Everyone knows this.

But to suggest that a professional team just lay down and die, that a professional team just give up and stop trying to win games?

It’s disgusting.

Only someone who’s never played professional sports ( which Joe Suck hasn’t) would even entertain such a notion.

What an insult to the fans who paid money to go out and see their team compete.

Of course my Rangers would never just give up. That’s why I love them.

P.S.: Texas was down 10-4 in the bottom of the 7th when JP Arrencibia hit a grand slam.

In the end, the Rangers lost (12-11, with the bases loaded,though. Seriously, one of the best games I’ve seen in a very long time).This is why I watch every game: there’s always the potential in baseball to see something great. 20140729-224232-81752965.jpg20140729-224255-81775832.jpg