Some days involve dog vomit.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have dogs. My days never involve dog vomit.”
But everyone has dog vomit days, I promise, even you people who don’t have dogs. Flat tires, fallen trees, freezers that go on unannounced strike and leave behind a mess of melted gelato. Dog vomit by any other name smells just as foul.
In our house of four dogs, of course, some days include literal dog vomit. Lucky for us the dog with the tender tummy prefers the cheap rug we bought on eBay over the Serapi I inherited from my mother. At least I think she called it Serapi. I don’t really know anything about rugs other than that my mother loved them, and she befriended a rug dealer who asked her to ghost write a book about his long family history in the rug trade; and in exchange he gave her a rug, the same rug that I think is a Serapi that’s magically vomit-free. I wonder sometimes if my mother cast protective wards over that rug before she died. If you knew my mother, you’d believe such a thing possible.
If you were raised Presbyterian, like I was, then you might take that dog vomit, literal or figurative, as a sign of what’s ahead in your pre-destined day, part of God’s grand plan. This is why I’m now an Episcopalian.
If you were raised Catholic, like Bernard was, then the dog vomit might be a reminder that you are inherently bad and in dire need of confession. This is why Bernard does not go to church.
Of course, irrespective of your religious upbringing (or lack thereof), you could look that dog vomit and just say, “Awesome.”
Awesome has become our code response to life’s stupid adversities, a word we use to summon equanimity. Boy’s braces and oral surgery will cost three times as much as my first car? Awesome. Water heater is leaking and washing machine starts making a strange noise that sounds like a drum section? Double awesome. “I fell off my bike, and I think I broke my arm.” You know it: awesome. The refrigerator needs replacing, in the same week we get the braces news? Yeah, awesome. Really. Awesome.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, we responded to situations like these with expletives, high blood pressure, and three-day depressions. We would sulk and be moody and snap at our children. We did not say “awesome” even in a snarky, sarcastic way.
Then Bernard, fatigued from working nights, blacked out on his way to pick up the kids from school and totaled his car, along with the 50 foot concrete light pole he hit. But he walked away completely uninjured, and since he hadn’t yet made it to school the kids were also uninjured. And when we got the report that he wasn’t supposed to drive for six months, and that the insurance on our remaining car doubled, and that the 1989 Volvo wagon that saved his life had $0 replacement value, and that our portion of the hospital bill was $2700, we looked at each other and said, “Awesome.” Because, really, what else could we say? In an accident that could have been devastating, we were all fine. Inconvenienced and in debt, but fine. If that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.
That was a little over a year ago, and it would be dishonest of me to write that the time between then and now has been easy. In the months since the wreck we’ve met a constant stream of little struggles, like when the downstairs heat went out the day before the first polar vortex hit and the replacement part took a week to arrive. It was 9 degrees outside and 46 degrees in our kitchen despite a near-24 hour cooking program, having 10 space heaters lent by kind neighbors, and tacking blankets over all the windows (ours looked like a meth house); so we huddled together upstairs, all four of us in one bed, and watched The Shawshank Redemption for the 57th time, and the kids said, “this is awesome,” and we just had to smile.
Some days involve dog vomit, and you can either learn to laugh through them or let them kill you. Once upon a time, not too long ago, we were on that second path. Then a little voice whispered that some things are just life’s little jokes, testing our mettle, our ability to recognize the difference between simple inconvenience and real tragedy. As long as no one is critically injured or terminally ill or doing grave harm, we practice saying awesome and try to find a bit of humor.
A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, because they have dog vomit days, too.
FOOD | Week of August 4, 2014
The thing with the freezer/refrigerator was a real thing this week at our house. And the awesome part (seriously) was that we figured it out when the freezer goods were thawed but still fully cold. So all the meat that I’ve been buying a little at a time from Renaissance Farms, saving it for winter, was suddenly ready to be cooked. Right now. Awesome! Instead of the salads we planned to eat we had a couple of spontaneous, no-recipe stews that were pretty tasty – tasty enough that I wrote them down, after the fact, and will share them.
We also worked at the school garden getting ready for students to head back on Monday (way, way too early), so we brought home raspberries and tomatoes and basil that somehow taste better to the kids because they picked them. Go figure.
Chorizo-Chicken-Shrimp Stew | Basmati Rice
What do you make when you have a pound of chorizo, two pounds of chicken thighs, and an undetermined amount of raw, peeled/deveined shrimp? A country-style stew, we decided.
- Chop a few onions (to yield about 2 cups) and fresh peppers (again, about 2 cups).
- Sauté onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until they just begin to brown.
- Add peppers and cook until they begin to soften.
- Add the chorizo (either slice or remove from casings, which is what we did) and cook for a bit and then add the chicken (we used them whole) and cook a bit more. NOTE: you could flip the order here, browning the meats (either together or separately), removing them to a plate, cooking the vegetables and then adding the meats back. We did not feel like going to all that trouble, and the end result was just fine).
- Add 2 cups chicken stock, some fresh crushed garlic (I like adding it at this point in the cooking instead of with the onions at the beginning so there’s no chance of burning the garlic), and either a large can of whole peeled tomatoes or some fresh ones if you have them, which we did not (peeling would be an important step if using fresh ones). If you have an open tube or can of tomato paste that’s going to spoil in your refrigerator-less kitchen then add a dollop; we did, but I don’t think we’d have missed it if we hadn’t.
- Season with oregano, cumin, black pepper and let cook for a while over low heat, until it’s not too liquid-y.
- Add the shrimp a few minutes before you’re ready to serve, stirring it around until it’s just pink but not rubbery.
If you want some heat, add a few dashes of Tabasco, Frank’s Hot Sauce or Sriracha. Serve with rice (we like basmati).
Greek Pasta Salad
To balance out more complicated cooking, here’s a quick summer recipe that tastes good either cold or at room temp and that should please just about everyone. We’ll probably use more cucumbers than tomatoes because the cucumbers are still plentiful, but the tomatoes are in their mid-summer lull.
Simple Beef Stew
Last winter, you may recall, I was on a quest to find the best beef stew recipe. I found a few that I liked, but no clear winner. Faced with thawed stew meat at 9 p.m. (too late to shop for special ingredients), I improvised and the result was delicious. I suspect this is a scalable recipe; I made it with a pound of meat because that’s what I had, and it was enough for four small portions or two very generous ones. The ratio of all other ingredients is 1:1:1. You’ll see:
- Preheat oven to 210 degrees (or have slow cooker ready on low).
- Sear stew meat in olive oil/butter in a medium Dutch oven.
- When the meat is brown on all sides and a bit crusty on the edges, remove it to a plate.
- Add more oil, if needed, and sauté a fist-sized onion, coarsely chopped, until the onion begins to brown.
- Return the meat to the pot and add 1 (scant) Tbsp. Herbes de Provence, 1 c. chicken stock, 1 c. dry red wine, and 1 Tbsp. tomato paste.
- Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven or slow cooker.
- Cook in the oven for 2-3 hours, until the meat is fork-tender, or in the slow cooker for 10-12 hours (this is what we did – and since we started at 9 p.m. we actually had it for breakfast. Weird, I know, but delicious.).
- About 30 minutes before cooking, thicken with beurre manié if needed.
Serve with crusty French bread.
As an early birthday present I received four small porcelain gratin dishes, which of course calls for shirred eggs. I keep pushing this particular egg preparation because one day you’re actually going to try it and see how different and delicious it is. This recipe from The Kitchn includes some different tips from the Mark Bittman and Ina Garten links I’ve posted before. If you want to fancy things up, serve with a small bitter green salad (dandelion or endive) and then follow with grilled peaches and ice cream.
Raspberry Chicken | Green Beans
Since raspberries are fragile, within a day of picking you need either to eat them or to prepare them in a way that will keep (sauce, jam, strudel, sorbet). This recipe from the classic Silver Palate Cookbook will never fail you, I promise, and it’s a great way to enjoy the raspberry flavor without feeling like you wasted too many in cooking. Serve with fresh steamed green beans and a fresh baguette.
All words, images and recipes are original to me, Jennifer Balink, 2014. If you’d like to use any, please ask.