Birthday: Pre-emptive Strike

So, upon the urgings of friends, particularly Ashley, I have decided to make it publicly known that I’m crowd-sourcing my next tattoo session as a birthday gift to myself.

It’s been nearly 6 years since I’ve gone under the gun, and I have an entire left arm sleeve simmering that is literature-inspired.  My first session will be the lamppost from Narnia, with Aslan’s words to Lucy in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Courage, dear Heart.  It should be a quick little jammer, as the saying goes, but isn’t something that I can divert budget money towards at the moment.

So.  If you’d like to donate towards my next tattoo, the paypal address is omydarlingpetunia@gmail.com .  In exchange, I will try and do something nice for you.  You might receive a thank you card, a post card, a nice print of the tattoo panel art with a note from me on the back, I could offer you babysitting, resume help, paper editing, or extra hands cleaning out your closet!  I assume most of my readers are people who know me IRL; so if you’re one of my outliers please just introduce yourself to me, and I will find a meaningful way to express my gratitude.

Birthday: Pre-emptive Strike

Paprikás

So, I was supremely lazy on Friday, and made cumin lavender cracklin chicken because the hearts, livers, and gizzards in my kitchen had not thawed well enough.  Mea culpa.  But!  They are fully thawed now, and I’m making Paprikás (pronounced “paprikash”) tonight.

First a little about the offal in question:
Chicken gizzards are part of a chicken’s digestive tract.  When eaten as human food, they’re great sources of protein, B12, iron, selenium, phosphorous, and zinc.  They’re delicious in a multitude of ways, especially when they’re fresh.

I’m the first one to extol the virtues of liver.  First of all, liver is delicious.  Secondly, it is a powerhouse.  Chicken liver specifically is a great source of Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Iron, Phosphorus and Selenium.

I also have some lamb hearts on hand.  Like most offal, heart is great for getting Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Phosphorus and Copper, Protein, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Iron and Selenium into your guts.

I’m not a nutritionist, by any means.  However, as a personal choice, I prefer food that is nutrient dense, and having a good dose of Vitamin B12 is a sure fire way to get me to consume something (along with being delicious).  Vitamin B12 is essential for a healthy nervous system, and deficiencies are not uncommon.  A B12 deficiency can cause things like fatigue, depression, and poor memory.  I like the idea of getting the majority of my nutritional content from actual food items rather than supplements if I can.

So that’s what’s on the chopping block this evening.  I’m making Paprikash.

Paprika is excellently paired with offal, firstly because paprika is delicious, and secondly because it nicely compliments the iron-laden flavor of offal.  If you’ve never eaten the internal organs of a creature, there tends to be a flavor I happen to love but can put some people off if they’re expecting a kidney to taste like muscle meat.  It’s a bit metallic and quite rich in quality and things like butter, paprika, lemon, onion, and fig play nicely with it.

So, Paprikash is a traditional Hungarian dish.  I started making it when I was reading Dracula in college, enticed by Jonathan Harker’s sumptuous and enthusiastic discussions of Hungarian cuisine as he ventured into the Carpathians early in the first few chapters.  Here’s how I do it:

Prep your offal.  Remove the sinewy hinge from the gizzards — this will make the gizzards cook to tenderness time requirement decrease.  You can leave them whole, but if you’re hoping for dinner in the shorter term, I recommend removing the hinge.  Carve the hearts by ventricle.  The chambers are typically quite easy to recognize.  I have faith in you.  Liver doesn’t need a lot of prep, especially chicken liver.  It’s a largely undifferentiated organ, so bite-sized or slightly bigger chunks should do you just fine.  If you’re using cow liver and find the iron taste puts you off, just soak it in lemon juice for 24 hours before you use it.  The citrus bath will break down some of the blood-like flavors in the liver.  Chicken livers, in my opinion, don’t need that sort of treatment.  They’re fine, as is.  Find some bacon, or take your jar of bacon grease out of the fridge.

Mis-en-place time:

Your meat is prepared.  Put it in a bowl and leave it on the counter, not the fridge, while you do the rest of the prep.

You have rendered some bacon fat, either today or another day.  You’ve done this, because we’ve hung out a few times, and I’ve been like, “keep your damn bacon grease and cook with it.”  Goose is better, but like, if you find a butcher in the tri-state that will give you rendered goose fat, you better give me their number.  I will give them all of my damn money. You can also use duck fat, if y’like, which is sometimes available at the grocer.

Mince a large onion.  Use a sharp knife, for the love of crap.

Grab the salt.  It can be any kind of salt.  I do not abide salt woo.  I use a truffle salt, when I’m being fancy (always, have you met me?); but a smoked salt, sea salt, or just table salt will do just fine.

Collect whatever paprika you plan to use.  You’ll be using sort of a lot.  I typically blend 2 Tablespoons of Hot Hungarian Paprika with 1 Tablespoon of Smoked Paprika, because basically if you smoke something, I will consume it with enthusiasm and delight.

You’ll need a Tablespoon of tomato paste, and enough chicken stock or bone broth to cover the meat in your dutch oven.

You may, if you like, add up to half a cup of sour cream.  Tomthulhu thinks it is gross; I will eat it by itself out of the container with a spoon.  If I’m making supper for both of us, I leave it out and just put sour cream on my plate because people I love are allowed to have preferences.

Cut up some sweet potatoes into approximately one inch cubes, or use small fingerling/young white potatoes.  Traditionally, paprikás is served on a bed of egg noodles.  I make mine to sit atop a crown of either boiled or oven roasted potatoes.  You can also use cauliflower!

Mince two cloves of garlic.

Here’s what you do:

Put your fat in a large dutch oven.  Ideally, you possess a ceramic or cast iron dutch oven.  Use it for freaking everything, and love your life.  Heat the fat until it melts over medium-high heat.

Put the onions in your heated dutch oven with the fat.  Cook them until they’re tender and clear, then push them all over to a remote corner of the dutch oven.

Brown about a pound of mixed hearts, gizzards, and livers in the onion-fat.  I usually turn up the heat when I do this to get a nice Maillard Reaction going.  Don’t let it get out of hand, though.  Offal doesn’t like being overcooked.

Add your salt, tomato paste, and paprika blend.  Add enough stock/broth to cover.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Put a lid on your dutch oven, and let this simmer for an hour to an hour and a half.  Check it after about 70 minutes.  If you de-hinged your gizzards, the dish might be done in as little as an hour. If you didn’t, it will take closer to three hours for them to be tender all the way through.  If the gizzard squeaks against your teeth when you bite it, it isn’t done yet.

Use this time to prepare your potatoes, sweet potatoes, or egg noodles (if you’re not on the paleo/ancestral template).

When it’s getting close to done, take the lid off, and simmer some of the liquid off.  This dish is meant to be rather thick; more like a thick stew than a soup.

As the liquid reduces, add your minced garlic.  Add the sour cream, if you’re doing that.

Serve on the starch of your choice.

That’s it.  The preparation time is pretty long, but the work is pretty simple.  This meal freezes and reheats well, and is excellent for chilly evenings with a glass of wine.  Pretend you are on a train trip through Budapest on a grand adventure as a newly minted solicitor.  “Memorandum: Get recipe for Mina.”

Paprikás

Holy Mother of Crap

Rebecca Woolf just addressed me, on Facebook, saying that she is glad I’m writing my piece for xoJane and that she’s looking forward to reading it.

How does one silent scream in like, a subtle way?
I have been reading GirlsGoneChild since Fable was born.  I devoured the archives of Archer’s early days, and have bought and given away like, seven copies of Rockabye (probably ten, let’s be honest).  Rebecca’s voice has always encouraged me to find my own, and she’s like: Kind of the Bravest, you guys?  For rull.  One of the things I love about her is that she doesn’t just share the parts of her life that look perfect with us.  It’s messy.  Sometimes, it is way super mega shitty.  Sometimes it is, dead serious, terrifying.  And also: It is All Okay.  When I freak out about #adulting, there is Becca, being all: Hey dudes, PACKING LUNCH IS THE WORST; or, EVERYONE IS AN ASSH*LE SOMETIMES INCLUDING YOUR PARTNER OR KID AND THAT IS BASICALLY HUMAN AS IS BEING CHEESED AT THEM.  Seriously.

This is extra super weird, because: I’m not a mom, y’all.  I hope to be, within the next decade, but that you know, may or may not work out for me.  But watching and reading and clicking through Rebecca’s journey as a woman, a partner, a mom — it’s hard to explain.  I’ve always been left with this sense that there’s not just one way to do this whole life thing, and maybe the way I’m doing it?  Is pretty okay.

So basically, this person I don’t know but want to have a series of lattes with who is in my brain kind of an artistic, amazing, stellar, superhero was just like: I will read this thing you’re writing.

 

Wut.  Just, Wut.

Holy Mother of Crap

Squinting Down the Tunnel

I wish there had been some way to know, back in December, how I would feel about my job in August.  Welcome to life, there, little human.

Tom’s acceptance to school has been put on hold, for entirely bullsh*t paperwork related reasons. Some administrative snags, delays, and miscommunication will likely mean that he will begin classes in January instead of, you know, next week.  I know he’s disappointed, and I’m disappointed for him (and maybe just a little irate on his behalf — not helpful, Rabbit).  

Meanwhile, my job has become even more of a rat race.  Or maybe it’s just that my perspective has shifted, I really can’t be sure.  Six new cases landed on my desk yesterday, but only after I asked for them.  Our division partner was gently critical of my billing in June when our litigation calendar was slow (and you know, my private life was mid-explosion — thanks again to the jerkwad askhole extrovert bombadier brigade for that one!), and I know I’m more productive with a big backlog.  The fact that training a new paralegal to bill (and bill well, she’s doing great) has not been mentioned, appreciated, or rewarded is sort of sticking in my craw, as those hours were not billable hours but definitely added value to our firm.  I’m expecting something of a shite review in December, and I wonder how much of that is me over-emphasizing anything less than glowing feedback (like I do) and how much of it is that it’s probably a bit apparent how emotionally burnt-out I feel.  

I’m so tired of my sort of impressive amount of brain power being devoted to cramming more billable tasks into six minutes blocks, indefinitely, for at this point, close to nine hours a day, five days a week.  As it is, I’m coming in early and lying about it to try and boost my billable totals to maybe justify a bonus that’s big enough to make the last three months feel like they’re worth something.  I haven’t taken a day off in five months.  I don’t anticipate taking one off for another three and a half months.  I haven’t even made time to go to the doctor, figure out my car, or get my teeth cleaned, because: Billable Hours are God, or Something.

I’m doing what I can to stave off the tide of decay.  I have plans to tackle the English/Language Arts curriculum for eighth grade and provide a comprehensive analysis of that list of books, probably here on this blog.  I also want to see if I have the chops to develop a reading list and syllabus for a critical thinking course that would be appropriate for grades 6 through 8, potentially using a work of Agatha Christie’s as a backdrop.  And Then There Were None seems like an excellent place to start. I will also be researching puzzles, games, thought experiments, and riddles for that course, I think. I’ve modified my somewhat aggressive tabletop game schedule to give myself more time to hit the library, devour books, and crap out thoughts about them.  I also need to bone up on, I’m assuming, MLA citation guidelines (which I have always held was a racket set up by High School English teachers, and prefer the Chicago Manual of Style, but whatever, no one asked me).  

I’m glad I’m coming up with projects that make my hopes and dreams feel a little more present, tangible, and fortifying.  It feels like I’m squinting pretty hard down a long tunnel, hoping that the light at the other end is real.

Squinting Down the Tunnel

New Books, Old Friends, and Deep Requirements

In bibliophile news, I just purchased Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  I’m excited about both volumes, in addition to spending some of this evening drafting my Educator’s resume, drafting a cover letter for the Friends Schools in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and coming up with some talking points about curriculum, passion, and cultivating character.  Shaun, of Polyskeptic, has generously offered to connect me with some faculty at his own alma mater to explore future opportunities there.  I think extending my library (both physical and mental) and augmenting my vocabulary with an eye on the differing needs of different kinds of kids is beneficial, since that’s something I’d really like to be able to bring to my classrooms.  I’m just about to finish Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and I’m trying to keep an even balance of fiction and non-fiction consumption.  My next fiction project is to familiarize myself with the literary curriculum for the age groups I would like to teach (11-16), see how much it has changed, and determine what I ought to be be plowing through to feel prepared and well-versed.  The summer reading lists also seem like a thing I ought to examine closely.

I spent a lot of time this weekend connecting pretty deeply with a lot of friends with whom I have a great deal of history.  It was nice.  There was probably just a touch too much whiskey involved; but none of us are too much worse for the wear over it.  It is an amazing experience to be known and intuited so clearly and accurately by people.  I’m suffering from a little bit of overload, and I’m looking forward to an evening on my own to do some tidying up, finish laundry, and spend time quietly in my own company.  Tom and I have talked about picking up Children of Light to play together, and I think that will be nice, as well.  I also have some preparation to do for this week’s session of Jade Regent, so some reading and putzing and then an early bedtime sounds like just what the doctor ordered.  

I’m tired to my bones today, and was dreading the dawn of the work week.  I’ve been pretty productive today and feel myself relaxing considerably now that my performance at work is less about a dogfight to the top of the billable hours roster, and more just doing my best and getting through the next year.  The stakes feel lower, and for whatever reason that seems to make me feel better about the job that I’m doing and about my weekly totals.  The light at the end of the tunnel still feels pretty remote.  However, it is there, sparkling off in the distance.

I know life won’t be perfect when I transition to teaching.  It is hard, *ssbreaking, and sometimes thankless work.  I will be tired a lot of the time.  Teachers have long work days that start quite early and can end quite late.  I will need to build more time for myself into my schedule, and not let my inclination to say “Yes” to all social invitations run my sh*t into the ground.  There will be days that my students will hate what I’m asking them to do.  There will be conflicts with parents, and kids in crisis.  There will be continuing education credits to fulfill, and likely, an Ed.D. somewhere down the line.  That will mean research, bibliographies, a dissertation.  

However.

Even the worst of those days sound more fulfilling, more promising, and more like home than what I do now, which has gotten to feel like an empty, soulless grind.  I work for excellent human beings, but the work we do is not work about which I feel passionate, or often, even satisfied.  The relentless pressure to gamble on law school, the knowledge that after three and a half years, I’m at the top of my game, and that the challenge of my work is mostly a race against the clock from 8:30 in the morning (let’s be honest, I’m in at seven and just lie about it) until five in the evening, to frame my life and my work in terms of six minute blocks and then cram as many of them in a day as I can, for essentially, money… it’s demoralizing.  So the bad days teaching will likely suck pretty hard, but the good days will be a kind of good I just can’t access where I am now.  Yeah, I won’t get huge bonuses for Christmas; but really — that’s all there really is to look forward to, here.  It’s the reason for every moment spent at work.  And I think I just have a deep requirement for more of a sense of purpose and accomplishment and meaning than that.  Plus, my curiosity will have more a place to inhabit and grow.  There will always be new techniques, new material, new best practices, new curricula.  There will always be classes to take and repertoires to augment.  That kind of intellectual prosperity is something important to me.  

I have to wait for all of this.  It’s going to take some time.  But the more I reflect and talk about this choice, the more I’m sure that what I stand to gain far outshines what I might need to lose.

New Books, Old Friends, and Deep Requirements

Achievement Unlocked: Home is Where You Are

T’s move is complete (mostly).  We have some unpacking to do, and some books to retrieve from his Mum’s, as they are from the Folio Society, and I desire to have them in our home such that I may fondle them like a creep.  We have some art to frame and hang, and I am looking forward to it living on our walls.  I have some plants to re-pot (my thai basil is thriving, and Amy has some pineapple mint for me to replace my dead oregano).  Last week was so stressful for both of us, but we weathered it pretty well.  I’m happy that home is where he is, and that we start and end our days together, even when we’re both off busy doing our own thing in between.  He’ll likely be getting some answers from his scholastic institution today about classes and benefits and such, and life will march forward, like it does.  With Sam visiting this weekend, there’s a lot of happiness happening this week.  And secretly, I love unpacking.  I hate packing forever, don’t make me do it.   But putting things where they belong (unless it is dishes because dishes are the absolute devil) does weird chemical things to my nesty brainparts.  Don’t judge.  We are all different.

Also on for this week:

  • TRIP TO THE LIBRARY F*CK YES – T has recommended Storm Front.  I’m only allowed to get one book this week, because I have prep work to do for our Jade Regent campaign.
  • Cleaning out my Saab, and prepping it for sale.  I cannot wait to find all my clothes and make-up in the trunk.  Probably also several wigs, let’s be honest.
  • Trip to Old Navy — I need a bathing suit and a pretty dress.  I get to have both, because I’ve been a good girl.  GOOD GIRLS GET FRINGE BATHING SUITS PERHAPS YOU HAVE HEARD THIS.
  • Preparations for Jade Regent.  My players want to go to the abandoned shack of a dead witch.  Everyone makes choices, I guess?  I hope not to res’ anyone.
  • Pay day!  WOooooo! (plus bill paying, eh what can you do.)
  • Happy Hour on Thursday!
  • Trip to the DMV (augh).
  • Beach trip shopping.  Snacks!  Solo Cups!  Illicit Booze!

I’ve been doing a pretty bang-up job of adjusting to a sometimes much smaller-feeling social circle, though there have been days (especially tough days last week) where I felt strangely isolated.  I am actively resisting the urge to sometimes Not Shut Up About My Feelings, because I don’t want the people around me to feel depleted or exhausted.  Honestly, what I should do is write a comprehensive account of what transpired, take my lessons from that, and go read The Mastery of Love and move the f*ck on already.  No one is interested in my whining about life lessons, probably least of all, me.

I think one of the deepest wounds I’m trying so patiently to close is that I invested so (so) much in these people who really had nothing of equal value to offer me in return.  While I don’t tend to think of relationships of choice as exchange-driven, I do think that reciprocity is a virtue worthy of our pursuit.  I was pushed to assimilate into a family unit that, underneath its “healthy, open, honest, communicative” exterior, is deeply flawed, coercive, maladaptive, and dysfunctional in a pretty unexamined and dangerous way.  I was not truly seen by this group of people, which is why when I pushed back with my own preferences and needs they reacted with such shock, offense, and false concern.  Gradually, it is all coming to make sense, and the narrative is becoming more holistic and cohesive, but I do often feel that I’m piecing it all together in something of a vacuum.

I reconnected with some unlikely parties (hi guys), in a tentative and cautious way, and maintain a hope for maybe some drinks and pleasant conversations later this summer or early autumn as the clouds continue to part.  I’m doing a lot of background-level processing about everything that has transpired in the last two or three months, and given how much I resist change… I’m doing pretty well?

I feel sort of validated in a way I didn’t before, because I spent all this time berating myself for being fooled by two people and their immediate social circles.  The amount of advantage taken of me is a little mind boggling.  After sharing some of what happened and listening a bit more to others, I realize that a lot of people are similarly tricked or fooled by charismatic individuals, and doubly so when they are encouraged to feel necessary, loved, or special.

So, now, instead of dwelling on it, I do research about fruit-bearing trees that can live in apartments (fig! keiffer lime!) and surf zillow postings in Kingsessing and SW Cedar Park and Cobbs Creek, daydreaming of something bright and sunny with a big kitchen and a front porch.  Once you’ve found your home, the house can be anything you want it seems.  As I settle in to the idea of changing my career, writing my book, moving to my city… it feels less like starting over and more like correcting my course.  I just needed to find true North.  My bearings were right there, the whole time.

Achievement Unlocked: Home is Where You Are

A final-fugal evening with thunderstorms and Duke Ellington

I hate endings. Ok, let’s revisit that completely unexamined piece of trite crap I just said. When I find some Thing that strikes particular notes in my brain or heart, I have a hard time letting that experience end.  My Beloved Gentleman often jokes about it, specifically with regard to certain serial or episodic media.  It is also an issue for me with books.  Often, very particular books.  I have read American Gods seven times.  The Night Circus, three.  I have read the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ten times start to finish, since I turned eight (this may have actually been the origin of my Dark and Secret Final-fugal Nature).  I don’t think I have ever actually stopped reading or listening to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  His Dark Materials, in its entirety: five times.  I believe I have read Ada, or Ardor three or four times.  I will pick up House of Leaves, open it randomly, and read it to the end at least once annually. Often, I will get to the last chapter, or something approaching the last chapter (typically within a half an inch) and slow my typically ravenous pace considerably.  I will take breaks. Make tea.  Have a sudden urge to do the dishes.  The Dishes.  Me.  I will magically decide I want to re-read (or in the case of the Audible full-cast rendition of Dracula, re-hear) that Wonderful Bit from the Beginning, again.  I will start another book.  In all likelihood, this drives the people who love me crazy, except for probably my brother who lovingly tolerates many of my more idiosyncratic personality traits with bemusement and patience, possibly because he has seen the alternative to my strange but at least somewhat healthy coping mechanisms.

Familiar gorgeous stories populated by people, creatures, and places I love are my version of Kraft macaroni & cheese ™. Protip: If I have had a totally shite day, a fight with my mom, or am otherwise depleted or depressed, try putting on Constantine, or Titus Andronicus (the one with Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins), or some Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I will go from a fussy, volatile mess to a quiet and comfy, probably sniffly but docile bunny rabbit.  Read to me from the Just-so Stories, or Silas Marner.  There’s something about a wonderful, repeatable experience — one I can practically recite, but don’t need to — that takes the roar out of even my most selfish squalls.  Any resistance to things like Bedtime but Not Sleepy, Adulthood is Hard, People are Jerks, Tomorrow is Only Tuesday What the Crap is That, Car Repairs are Non-Optional, or That Went Poorly and Now I’m Upset about It malaise will likely fade from Hurricane Force Winds to a Perhaps Slight Breeze pretty quickly.

From now on, The Rathbones is likely to be one of these stories that I revisit in an alarming endearing ritualistic fashion.  I finished it at the zenith of last night’s thunderstorm, despite every final-fugal molecule in my body stating that, no, actually right now would be a great time to do laundry, eat food, do dishes, put dishes away, sweep the living room floor, or do basically anything that wasn’t finish this glorious story because oh my god then it will be over and I can never again have the experience of reading it for the first time why is life so unfair augh.  The ending was unsurprising — you could see it in the distance, just as Mercy Rathbone could see all the way out to the horizon.  But despite it ending the way I knew it would, all along, the mysteries solved and journey taken in between the beginning and the end felt absolutely singular.

A final-fugal evening with thunderstorms and Duke Ellington