Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year, southern style


Well, I suppose it goes without saying that my new years’ resolutions include: do a better job keeping up with this blog…



But I have to say, despite the grim reaper knocking off the idols of my teenage years left and right, and the mass insanity of the American electorate… 2016 was a pretty good year for me. And 2017 got off to a great start yesterday, with a family dinner at my house that was full of ”pinterest wins” that deliciously satisfied the southern requirements for luck and money in the coming year. 

When my family gets together, everyone contributes. My brother and sister-in-law put their new pressure cooker to use making black-eyed peas (less than half an hour, no soaking, and they were amazing!). Dad and my stepmom brought cornbread, mac and cheese for the kiddos, and Dad baked a pound cake on a whim.

Since I was hosting, I got to try out lots of new recipes:

Of course the Barefoot Contessa made it into the mix. Maybe that means I'll get a little Ina-and-Jeffrey mojo this year. If not, I’ll still have this yummy maple-roasted carrot salad in my life. I could eat a plateful of the carrots just on their own, but they shine in this wonderful sweet-tart–crunchy salad. I used spring mix instead of arugula, which worked well here too.

Pigs were represented by the most amazing slow cooker Cuban pork from Amy at Belly Full. I used a five-pound butt, and upped the ingredients a bit. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and really flavorful. I’ll be eating the leftovers with black beans and rice for lunch this week, and its definitely going onto my make-again list.

The greens were collards, cooked the traditional way. I didn’t like collards well into adulthood, then I made an amazing, if blasphemous, discovery. I don’t like collard greens the way my mom cooked them.  One of the very few things I can say that about, I realized that when they are not cooked to a bitter, olive drab death, collards can be pretty tasty. I followed this guideline from Simply Recipes for the most part, although I used seasoning bacon and after reading some other recipes, I added two teaspoons of sugar to the pot to cut the bitterness.   Even the 10-year old ate them, so I must have done something right!

Since I didn’t get around to baking cookies before Christmas last year, I tried two of the recipes I had been eyeing on pinterest. Smitten Kitchen never disappoints, and the “Browniest Cookies” were no exception – Insanely dense, decadent, chewy, chocolaty goodness. But my nephew doesn’t like chocolate, so for him, I made brown sugar cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction that were soft and yummy, with just a hint of cinnamon. Hint: Penzeys ceylon cinnamon has a mild, fruity flavor that was great here.

Obviously, the diet started today! To all of my friends and family out there, Happy New Year and here’s hoping that 2017 is filed with wonderful adventures, good times and lots of love!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So much for a change

To everyone who is calling for change this political season. Sorry, but I think you’re lying. You say you want to shake up the system. To change the way things are done in Washington. I'm calling bullshit. The President only has so much power - he (or she) can propose and advocate for the changes everyone says they want, but aside from some (hopefully) limited executive powers, real change happens in the halls of Congress.

I hear a LOT of people from both parties talking about how Congress is broken. Overall, approval ratings of Congress are so low that we’re reading them in decimal points. Negotiation and cooperation across party lines, which are pretty much essential for getting things done, have become symbols of weakness. The next Congress hasn't even started yet, and the incumbents are already bragging about how obstructionist they are going to be. Yet everyone keeps putting this collection of clowns back into the car.  They hate Congress, but they like THEIR Congressman/woman.

Consider this:



All 435 House seats are up for grabs. Incumbents are trying for reelection in 394 of those races. Only 5 of those incumbents lost in their party's primary, and just 24 races are considered to be even possibly competitive for the incumbent (according to Ballotpedia).

But what about the Senate, where everyone keeps talking about a flip-flop and “big changes” because the teeter-totter of control might switch by one or two members? There are 34 Senate races taking place this year. Incumbents are running in 29 of them, and in 20 are safe bets for reelection. But in 3 of the 9 races that are competitive, the incumbent is running against one of the 12 House members who decided to try for something bigger. House members also account for at least one of the contestants in each of the 5 "open" races."

So what it boils down to folks... we had 469 opportunities to make a change, and it looks like we're going to blow most of them.  Unless people go to the polls, forget about party lines and just say NO to every incumbent, come January, anywhere from 83-90% of the current crop of bozos will be coming back to dish up some more dysfunction.

Welcome to your change, America. This is your circus. These are your clowns.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Something is broken, but it's not my foot

Peroneal tendonitis. That's a fancy word for "you twisted your foot and it won't get better if you insist on wearing flip-flops and ballet flats." After weeks of a mildly annoying achy foot, and an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture, that was the podiatrist's diagnosis. Treatment: a lecture on proper footwear and a prescription anti-inflammatory for a month while it heals.




And that's where the real problem started. The doctor prescribed a pill called Vimovo, twice a day. She gave me a few samples and said she was calling it in to a pharmacy in Acworth (I was in Midtown) that would mail me the 30-day supply. She said it was like Aleve, but wouldn't upset my stomach to take twice a day.

I've had issues before where an allergy doctor prescribed me a really expensive version of Flonase that wasn't covered by my insurance, so when I got back to the office, I went on to my health insurance website to check the coverage. 

Vimovo is not covered. And a 30-day supply of this wonder drug from a mail order pharmacy would cost me $1,916.98, according to my insurance company. Holy crap! So I called the insurance company to verify. Yep, it's not covered. Then I looked up Vimovo find out what was so great about this insanely expensive little pill. And you know what, it's not just "like Aleve." It IS Aleve. TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR ALEVE, WITH A COATING OF NEXIUM! 

So I called the pharmacy to cancel the prescription, because just hell no. The pharmacist tells me that they have a partnership with the company that makes Vimovo, and that I'll only have to pay $10 and the manufacturer absorbs what my insurance doesn't cover. What kind of bullshit is this?!?!? Now I'm sure that Horizon Pharma isn't taking a massive loss out of concern for my health - you can bet that they are probably making a profit on the drug at the $10 cost, which comes out to 6 cents per pill (and trying to get the remaining $1906 (or at least part of it) from SOMEBODY.  Probably my insurance company, who will then try to get it from me, or bitch about high costs and raise my/my firm's rates.  

To compare: the Vimovo pill would cost somebody who actually has to pay the market price about $64 per day for the month I need to take it. If I go to CVS and buy large-size bottles of generic aleve and prilosec (cheaper version of Nexium), I can take the exact same dosage of the same meds for about $1.20 per day.

I also found this New York Times article about Horizon, which bought the patent on the Vimovo from Astra Zeneca and  upped the price about by 1200% over a two-year period. Their other big money drug is a similarly overpriced combo of motrin and pepcid. And the company isn't run by PT Barnum, although CEO Timothy Welbert probably shares Barnum's views on the rate of stupidity among American consumers.

Now when it comes to my health, I'll admit I've been pretty lucky so far (sound effect= one very loud knock on wood). Heading into middle age, I've had very few problems, I've have always been fortunate enough to have very good health insurance coverage, and like to think I'm reasonably intelligent enough to do the research about procedures, drugs and costs.

But you know what, I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority, and that lots of people are getting really screwed over by greedy pharmaceutical companies, greedy insurance companies, or doctors and pharmacies who are probably getting all sorts of kickbacks and fancy lunches for prescribing this stuff. 

We need to admit that the system is broken. We need to admit that we can do better. We need to look at most other industrialized countries who have some form of a national health system and have lower costs and better health outcomes (better mortality rates, lower disease rates, higher quality of care,etc.).

But for now, I'm  going to do the only three things I can do: vote for politicians who want to see the system change, stop by CVS on the way home, and buy a new pair of Sketchers.
Friday, September 16, 2016

Potlucks, picnics and family traditions

Feeding an army is something that we Southern women do well. So far this month, my church had an outdoor service and potluck picnic. Then I spent Labor Day hanging out with my family and brought dessert. Then last weekend was the Hunton family (Mom's side) reunion on Sunday. Suffice to say, it's been a busy month in my kitchen!

When I was little, the family reunion was a huge deal, involving descendants (mostly) of my great grandparents. They had five children, and my grandparents had eleven, which means that I have a LOT of family out there. The reunion is always held at the Marietta Campmeeting -- an old Methodist revival campground. As a child, it was a chance to play with dozens of seldom-seen cousins and drink lemonade from a giant metal washtub perched at the end of a 20-foot long picnic table that was literally packed end-to-end with fried chicken, ham and every southern side dish you could imagine.


























The pic is my great grand-father (kneeling) and his brothers at a family reunion in the 1930s, me with my cousin Whitney in the late 80s, and the campmeeting church today.

Potlucks aren't about fancy food, or things that don't travel well, or that just don't "go" with other foods. It's all about pure southern comfort, and for that, here are two great models, and two great recipes that I've made for these recent events.

For the church potluck, it was corn pudding from Pat Conroy's cookbook.  My all-time favorite southern writer, that cookbook is as much of a treat to read as it is to cook from.  This particular recipe has become one of my favorites - it's not gummy or heavy, like the corn pudding most people make from a boxed cornbread mix. It's light, fluffy and absolutely delicious. 

Pat Conroy's Corn Pudding

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 12-oz bags frozen corn

Melt butter - whisk in sugar, flour, milk, eggs and baking powder until smooth. Stir in corn and pour into l2-quart casserole dish (spray with pam or melted butter first). Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes -- firm and lightly browned on top.

For the reunion, I pretty much HAVE to bring buttermilk pie. The recipe is from my Aunt Gladys, and I remember it from every family-get-together growing up. If you're not southern and think buttermilk pie sounds weird, just wait until you try this sweet and tangy custard.

Aunt Gladys' Buttermilk Custard

3 eggs
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
2 tbsp flour
dash salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
uncooked deep dish pie crust

Cover pie edges with foil so they won't over-brown and preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs, then mix in butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla and buttermilk. Pour into pie crust and bake 30-40 minutes until golden. Cool completely before eating (it's actually better the second day).


Sunday, September 11, 2016

The day with the bluest sky



So fifteen years. Wow. That day when the world changed. A few weeks ago, I was searching in my filing cabinet for my eyeglass prescription, and as I pulled out the file marked "medical records," I happened to notice the one in front of it marked "maps."  As in about a dozen of the old-fashioned paper kind that haven't seen the light of day since I got my first iphone. Out of curiosity and a little nostalgia, I unfolded the first one, a streetfinder map of Manhattan that I bought for a weekend getaway with a boyfriend in early 2001. Seeing the World Trade Center buildings marked in tourist-attraction pink on that little map gave me a goose-over-my-grave feeling, and took me back.

Of course everybody who is old enough remembers exactly what they were doing that day. I was leaving my house late to drive to work (rather than take the Metro as I usually did) after an early morning meeting with a printer had been postponed. I saw the news about the first plane as I was getting ready to walk out the door. I stopped to watch, then saw the second plane hit before going into work. By the time I got to the office, the news stations were reporting that DC had been targeted as well, although the info was unclear.  My office was just three blocks from the White House, and we all stood together in a fearful huddle in the conference room wondering what was happening and what we should do. Eventually, we closed up the office and left. I gave my boss a ride home. The drive, which on a good day takes about 20 minutes, took about two and a half hours that day. Carolyn and I listened to the radio the whole way and tried to use our cell phones with little luck.

My most vivid memory of the day came later in the afternoon. After hours of watching the news unfold on TV, I decided to walk to the convenience store down the block for some diet coke. I'll never forget that walk, because it seemed so surreal to me that a day of such horror could be so perfectly beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping in the park I passed by, there was a little breeze, and the sky was a unbelievable, travel-poster-worthy shade of blue. It felt like a day for picnics, or celebrations, or a glass of wine and watching the world go by on a sidewalk cafe. It just seemed so peaceful and pretty, and yet eerily quiet and somehow so WRONG.

Ultimately it was only the first of many surreal moments that followed over the next few weeks. Seeing tanks and armed soldiers on DC street corners. Driving on the highway past the Pentagon and seeing that horrible, gaping hole. Hearing the stories of friends who had close calls, or who lost their own friends and loved ones. Fifteen years have passed, and it seems like those sad days are at once a lifetime ago, and not so very long at all.

At the time, I remember Rudy Giuliani offering a prayer at a Ground Zero memorial service. And while I can't say that I think too highly of him today, he chose the perfect sentiment for that moment -- the "Francis of Assisi" prayer, which remains beautiful and necessary to me in this crazy world that we are still in:

"Lord, make us an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."






Friday, September 9, 2016

Steph's Top 10: Movies I Love

Every once in a while at work, my boss or I will make a movie reference when we're talking to the younger members of our team. Most of the time, they’ll say they have never seen the movie in question, so I joke that I'm going to make a an educational list of movies they really need to check out. 


Well, here it is. But these aren’t really the serious films that I appreciate because they make some sort of statement about the world, or are marvelous examples of technical craft. These also aren’t the action films or cheesy disaster movies that are just plain fun to watch (Pierce Bronson v. volcanoes, The Rock v. earthquakes). These are just movies that I love and find myself watching over and over again.

In no particular order other than how they popped into my mind at 5:00 am when I can’t go back to sleep. I’ve been wanting to start making Top Ten lists, but I just couldn’t narrow this one down.

The English Patient. It’s such a haunting, lovely book, and Anthony Minghella picked up the mood perfectly to make a stunningly beautiful film.

A Fish Called Wanda. John Cleese makes an surprisingly adorable romantic hero (bonus points if you know where his character's name originated). Add Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin to the mix, and you've got comedy perfection. Just don't call me stupid.

Pulp Fiction/Kill Bill. I just couldn't pick between my favorite Tarantino films, but either way, Uma Thurman is pretty freaking awesome.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yes, it soft-pedals prostitution and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi is offensively racist from a modern perspective, but oh, George Peppard is adorable.

Sense and Sensibility. While I love P&P, Elinor Dashwood is the Jane Austen heroine I identify with the most.

Much Ado About Nothing. Possibly the most accessible Shakespeare. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at her most luminous. And Benedick and Beatrice are pretty much the model for every rom-com couple since 1598.

Grosse Point Blank. Like The Breakfast Club, this is pretty much microtargeted on my generation. Nobody shot anyone at my 10-year reunion, but other than that…

The Thomas Crown Affair (the 90s remake). Smart and sexy as hell, and after 20-something years, I still want EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT Michael Kors designed for Rene Russo.

An Officer and a Gentleman. I’ve seen it a million times, and I still go mushy at the end when he sweeps her up in his arms. Every damn time.

Steel Magnolias. When I’m old, I will be Clairee. If you’re a woman in the South, this movie pretty much has a quote for every situation in life.

The Breakfast Club. This is high school. And it's everything.

Almost Famous. Sex drugs and rock 'n' roll through sweetly funny, rose-tinted glasses.

Hope and Glory. WWII-era London from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old boy. Who knew the Blitz could be so funny.

Dangerous  Liaisons. Deliciously, viciously, elegantly mean. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are super villains in 17th century clothing who wield words as weapons.

Chocolat. Juliette Binoche livens up a stuffy little French Village in the 1950s. And yes, that is Trinity from The Matrix in the shirtwaist and pearls.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Colds and comfort food

I've got four posts that don't actually include recipes in some sort of draft form right now, but I've managed to catch a late-summer cold. I'm heavily under the influence of various pharmaceuticals and not feeling very coherent or creative at the moment, so I'll share a few more easy, quick dinners. And a cake, because even when I feel like crap, I have to get off the sofa at some point during the day, and I had strawberries in the fridge that needed to be used.

Mediterranean Nachos

I've mentioned my undying love for Smitten Kitchen before, and this is one of my favorites. As usual, I like recipes that leave me a lot of wiggle room.  Once you make the beans (an I usually cut this recipe in half) and pile them on some pita chips, you can get creative with the toppings.  You can make Deb's salad and tahini, or maybe some chopped tomatoes and feta, or just a few dollops of that Skinnytaste tzatziki I'm crazy about. And if you use canned chickpeas, it comes together in about a half hour, which makes this dish even more awesome.

Pasta with Lemon, Spinach and Goat Cheese
This one originally came from Martha Stewart Living. I add 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan to the sauce - I think it gives it a bit more flavor. Also, I figured out a great trick -- place your chopped spinach in a colander, then once you reserve your cup of pasta water, dump out the pasta into the colander and let it sit and drain while you make the sauce. It will wilt the spinach just a bit.  Also, you can substitute grilled chicken for the walnuts and it's really good too!

Strawberry Cake
This was a Pinterest win for sure. Not too sweet, slightly lemony and full of fresh strawberries, this is a great cake for summer picnics, sick days on the sofa, and even for breakfast (not that I've ever done that) :)