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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Swamp Cooler

Good evening, dear readers.

Today, we were blessed with a cloudy and cool day. My husband decided that today would be the day he would tune up the swamp cooler and get it ready for the summer because it is going to get very hot next week. Though we'd been running it periodically over the course of the last few weeks, the cooler was in need of some servicing, especially today when it wouldn't turn on this morning!

My cooler looks like this since it's mounted at the front of the trailer, but with more rust and scale from wear (pic found here)

For those of you who may not be familiar with it, a swamp cooler is a home cooling unit that works by blowing air over water to cool it. It is also known as an evaporative cooler since, well, that's basically how it works. The cooler also adds humidity to the air from the water, which makes it quite an effective cooler here in dry Arizona as opposed to someplace humid like Louisiana or Georgia. Also, swamp coolers use less electricity than air conditioners and are easier to maintain. You also have the benefit of leaving windows open when the swamp cooler is running since it helps enhance the airflow, unlike air conditioning which performs best in a sealed environment.

Basic diagram of how a swamp cooler works. Pic found here

When he opened up the cooler to investigate, my husband saw there were a few things that needed servicing in there. A spider bearing had disintegrated and the belt was shredded. The motor still works, but it's not in good shape. We need to get a new motor as soon as we can afford to so that it will be in reserve when the old one finally dies. The pads were pretty weathered and needed to be changed too.

A quick trip to Home Depot to get the necessary replacement cooler parts, and an auto parts store to get brake shoes (one of the front brakes was discovered to be in dire need of repair. We have the drum, but the shoes we had were the wrong size-too small to fit the drum properly), and my husband spent the rest of the afternoon working on the cooler. It wasn't too hard of a job and was fixed by sundown.

Basic diagram of a swamp cooler. Mine looks a little different internally than this one, but I suspect that has more to do with age than anything (ours is kinda old). Pic found here

As he did that, I worked on cleaning up the yard. It wasn't any messier than that of our neighbors, but it was getting to be too cluttered for my liking. A spring cleaning was needed so that the baby has plenty of space to play in the yard when we go outside. Also, on a recent trip to the recyclers, we learned that no outfit in town was buying plastic. With the price of oil being so cheap right now, the price of plastic was too low to justify paying out. I was disappointed because my husband and I try to be ecologically responsible and recycle our plastics and metals. But, since management is too cheap to incorporate recycling into the weekly garbage service, we have to go elsewhere to recycle our pop cans and bottles. Out to trash went several garbage bags of empty plastic 2L pop bottles which would ordinarily have gone to recycling. As disappointing as it is to have to throw away recyclables, I'm tired of our yard looking like something out of "Hoarders". By the end of the day, the yard was still cluttered in a few places, but much more orderly than before. My hubby will finally have the room he needs to build a carport to shade our cholomobile from that beastly ball of gas in the sky.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Burek

Happy Monday, dear readers! I hope your weekend went well.

Recently, I decided to call upon my Serbian roots and make some traditional food. The fillo dough I bought at the Euro mart a few weeks ago was sitting in my freezer and needed to be utilized. When she was here, my grandma gave me her recipe for making cheese pita, a kind of savory pie that is a staple of Serbian cuisine. Though she always made her dough from scratch, her advanced age had caught up with her and my grandmother was now using fillo dough to make her pitas.

Fillo dough, out of the box. It's supposed to be available in major grocery store chains, but I have yet to find them outside of the Euro mart here. Pic found here 

Though I understood her reason and rationale for doing so, this admission saddened me because my grandmother's pitas were always doughy and thick, which was what I came to understand pita as being (though to make things especially confusing, pita can be made with thick or thin dough and that pita, gibanica, and burek are all mostly interchangeable terms to describe savory pies in Balkan cuisine). However, when she made burek, that was the only time she used fillo dough for something that wasn't a pastry.

Burek, like pita, is a savory pie from the Balkans. Just about every country and dialect there has a name for burek, and it is usually filled with cheeses or meats (though vegetables like spinach are common). Burek can be rectangular, round, horseshoe, or spiral shaped (the latter is common in Bosnia). It is usually made with dough stretched thin that can be either handmade or from fillo.

This is how I remember burek from my childhood. If fillo dough is not used, then the dough is handmade and stretched very thin over a large surface area and folded over with the fillings. Pic found here

Since my husband positively despises cheese, I decided to make meat burek. I remembered there was a Serbian deli a few towns over from where I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and to this day I remembered how good the owner made his meat burek. He used ground beef seasoned with a little salt, pepper, and a pinch of paprika. I don't remember if he used anything other than beef, but the taste has remained burned in my memory all these years. This would be a good way to use up my fillo dough.

After I let it thaw in the fridge for a day or so, I took out the fillo dough along with some canola oil, and a pastry brush. When making these pies, it is essential that the dough be greased with each layer.

I started off by cooking the meat filling first. We had a leftover pound or so of ground beef that needed to be eaten, and I added in my customary chopped onion and garlic for flavoring. I then added some salt, pepper, and a touch of paprika.

Filling in progress

When the meat was finished, I turned on the oven and as it warmed up, I set about assembling the burek. I had no clue how fragile fillo dough was until I began unraveling its sheets from the roll and layering them in the pan. The sheets were tearing and literally disintegrating in my hands, no matter how carefully I picked them up. My grandmother and mom made handling them look so easy! HOW?!

After oiling each sheet and before laying the next one down, I added my meat filling after every few layers. With the fillo dough fast becoming dry, I finished off the package by just throwing on the last few sheets, oiling them up and putting them in the oven. My grandmother's baking instructions were just to let the pita (or burek, in my case) bake at 350 until golden brown, which I figured wouldn't take that long.

FINALLY assembled and ready to bake!

Despite me periodically opening the oven to check on the burek (our oven does not have a light), it took almost an hour and a half before the top looked even halfway tan, but as I would discover when I cut the burek to eat, I had overcooked it. The bottom was kinda burned, the middle layers were alright, but the top layers were dry and the whole thing was quite greasy from all the oil I'd slathered the fillo sheets with. Despite the amount of meat I made, I felt like I hadn't used enough for this dish to turn out as good as I remember it being.


My first burek. Needs more meat and less time in the oven

Even though I was disappointed by the way this burek turned out, it was a learning experience in a number of ways. Fillo dough is fragile and dries out very quickly, so I have to figure out an easy way to keep the layers moist and if there is a way of handling the sheets so that they don't disintegrate as I'm handling them. I could also take a stab at making the dough from scratch, although my counter is tiny and I may have to get creative about space. Also, I feel like my dough to meat proportions were off and that the next time I make burek, I'll see how well 2 lbs of ground beef works with a package of fillo dough. I'll also use a different pan next time to see if the kind of pan I bake with has an effect on how the burek turns out.

It may take a while and a few bombed bureks before I finally get it right, but for better or worse, I don't give up. To make a good burek is an art, one that I aim to achieve.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pictures of the Day


Recently, I was changing the bed sheets after hubby and I woke up to a carnage of fig bars smeared all over the covers. I keep telling him not to leave food in the bedroom, but he never listens because hubby is a chronic snacker and needs to satisfy his munchies when he wakes up at night. In addition to tempting the baby with mischief, I'm tired of having to brush crumbs out of the clean bed every time I lay down in it as well as vacuuming the carpet every other day.

As it were, the baby decided to "help" me with putting on the sheets...

There's a ghost in my bedroom!
Like many small children, she discovered the magic of a bed sheet. Flare it up, and it's like an instant tent! When she gets older, she'll probably run around the house wearing a sheet as a cape, just like I did when I was little.

It wasn't a ghost, it was my baby daughter!

The bed eventually did get made and the carpet vacuumed of all the crumbs that came out of the blankets. I really should make my hubby do the vacuuming in the bedroom. After all, the one who makes the mess is the one who needs to clean it up, right?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Vacuum

Hello, dear readers!

Sorry I haven't written for a few days. Life has kept me busy. As the baby becomes more mobile, I have to constantly chase after her so that she doesn't hurt herself or do something bad. She's not walking yet, but she's getting better at pulling herself up on furniture and standing up for longer periods of time. Her preferred method of transportation, for now, is crawling on all fours.

And playing on the bed!

Though it may not seem like a big deal, I finally got a new vacuum! For pretty much the last year or so, I've been using a shop vac to vacuum our home. While it was good about picking up surface dust, hair and kitty kibbles, it simply could not get down deep into the carpet to get the ground-in dust and hairs. I needed a better vacuum, specifically a pet one because of the kitties, so I set about researching different brands and reading the ratings/reviews on Amazon. My hubby wanted me to get a Kirby vacuum, but I was NOT going to pay what we spent on our car for a damn vacuum! I found a pet vacuum by Bissel that was rated pretty well, but when I saw it at Walmart on a recent excursion, it was more than what I was willing to pay.

Fast forward to yesterday. While running errands, we stopped into a local refurbished tech shop. My hubby has a long history with this place as he used to hang out in this shop working on his various Linux projects, conversing with customers, etc. He even had his own little work station set up next to the register so he could do his computing. As such, we've gotten to know the staff pretty well and some of the regular customers too.

This is what I wound up getting. Pic found here

In addition to computers and other bits of outdated technology, the store also gets donations of furniture and appliances. It's less of a tech shop than it used to be and more like another thrift store. One donation they acquire pretty regularly are used vacuums. The proprietor had somehow acquired a whole bunch of Shark brand vacuum cleaners, and a few others. I noticed there was a fairly modern Hoover pet vacuum in the mix. Since it was priced at $45, I almost didn't buy it, until I saw on the announcement board at the front entrance that vacuums were on sale 25% off. Needless to say, I bought it. $33 is not a bad price to pay for a vacuum.

When we got home, I decided to try out the new vacuum on the living room carpet. It picked up the kibbles and kicked up a ton of dust...except they weren't going into the dirt canister (this vacuum is bagless). I tried out the hose extensions and felt almost no suction. It was then that I noticed the "idiot light" (it's not so much a light as it is a system check indicator. The term "idiot light" comes from my husband who uses it to describe the indicator lights in modern cars in which a light on the dashboard goes on saying that something's up, but provides no specific details about the problem; hence "idiot light") starting to go from green ("good") to red ("bad"). I figured at this point that there was a clog somewhere in the machine since this would occasionally happen with the shop vac, so I took off the bottom plate of the vacuum which covers the belt and brush roll. The belt and brush roll looked ok, but a small pile of dust and dirt appeared on the floor from the intake hose. I emptied out the hose, replaced the plate, and turned on the vacuum again. Same problem. My husband was itching to return the vacuum the next day, but I told him to hold off until all troubleshooting had been completed.

I then proceeded to look up the model number online so that I could download a manual. As it turned out, this was the Hoover Windtunnel 2 Rewind Pet vacuum, and despite the lackluster reviews I read regarding Hoover's other pet vacuums, this one rated pretty well for performance. Sure enough, the manual described the idiot light changing to red as indicating that there was either a clog or the filters were dirty. I checked the filters and they were fine, but sure enough, when I detached the main hose from the dirt canister, I saw the clog. I had my husband run a conduit pipe through the hose (the same way he'd unclog the hose in the shop vac when it needed doing so) and he was surprised by the gobs of dog hair that came out. Needless to say, once I reattached everything, the vacuum worked perfectly fine. The dust, hair and kibbles all went into the dirt canister like they were supposed to. It disappointed me to think that somebody had gotten rid of a perfectly good vacuum cleaner all because of a clog that could easily have been removed. A glaring example of disposable consumerama at its finest...

Seriously, we could have MADE a dog from the amount of hair that came out of the hose! Pic found here

So now that I have my new vacuum cleaner for the home, the shop vac will be designated to the shed where it will be utilized to vacuum the car. Now, I must research who's got the best rental deal on a carpet cleaner. I have no idea how long its been since the living room carpet was washed and cleaned. It's good to do that at least once a year. I wonder if my mom would send me her ancient Bissel carpet cleaner. She hardly uses that thing anyway...

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Trip to the Euro Mart

Good evening, dear readers.

Today was a day I had been looking forward to all week. This past weekend, in the aftermath of my family's visit, I was googling where I could find Serbian beer for sale in town, and lo and behold, I stumbled across a Euro mart. Owned by a Ukrainian family, it was located on the east side of town and sold all kinds of goods from Eastern Europe. This included beers from Russia, the Ukraine, the Balkans, and Poland. I wanted to go and check it out, so today after my husband got his medicine, we went and took a friend with us. She hadn't seen our cholomobile yet and needed a ride home, but she didn't have any plans for the afternoon and tagged along with us.

The helpful proprietress and her wares. Pic found here

Upon arriving in the strip mall where it was located, I thought immediately of the Serbian delis I used to visit while growing up in Illinois, as well as a few up in Phoenix that I've frequented in my old life. There were mineral water and beer advertisements in the windows, as well as a sign proclaiming how good the gyros were. Inside, the shelves were packed with Russian and Polish goods as well as jars of pickled stuff. I literally was like a kid in a candy store! It was not cheap, however. Compared with the delis I've been to, the place was a racket! But, it's a specialty store for a community that isn't really big, so I can deal with the prices because this is the reality of the Slavic community here in southern Arizona. At least the store accepted EBT.

Russia's largest beer company, with all its varieties. Pic found here

My husband got a few jars of pickled herring (yuck!) and I got some fillo dough to make pita as well as some Russian cookies for the baby. I also fulfilled the mission that brought me to the store in the first place and bought a few bottles of beer. I bought a bottle of Baltika (grade 9) which is a Russian beer brand, and two Serbian beers that I remembered from my childhood: Niksicko (actually, they're from Montenegro) and Jelen. I saw some other beers from Bosnia and Croatia as well as plenty from Russia, Poland and the Ukraine. Again, these bottles of beer are not cheap (my Serbian beers went for almost $3/bottle and the Baltika was like $7 cuz it was a pint as opposed to a 10-oz bottle), but until I can find them elsewhere in town for cheaper (I don't think you can order them online), a once-in-a-while trip here when we have money is ok for sampling. The proprietress recommended the Baltika as her favorite beer. I was surprised to see how many varieties (or "grades") the brand puts out.

This is what I had to drink. The neon green color captured my attention. The label says "tarhun" and it definitely tastes different than your average American carbonated beverage. Supposedly, it was originally created in a Georgian pharmacy when a pharmacist mixed some carbonated water with tarragon syrup. Pic found here

We had lunch at the Euro mart. My husband wanted to try the gyros, and our friend had never even heard of them. So, we ordered some. I was a little disappointed by the inclusion of lettuce with the gyros (I'd never heard of such a thing prior to coming out to Arizona because all the gyro places in Chicago never did that. I still think it's an abomination), but the rest of it was good. It wasn't bad price wise and to wash it down, I had a bottle of Russian pop. It was neon green in color and tasted like anise, but the English translation of the label listed it as being made from tarragon seeds and vanilla extract. It wasn't bad, just different. I almost picked a bottle of kvass to drink, but decided lunchtime was too early to be drinking alcoholic beverages, even if they're low alcohol. Our friend had some of the gyro and was impressed with it. I told my husband next time we came that we would have the cabbage rolls ("sarma" in Serbian). I wanted to see how they were made as compared to what my grandma made when I was growing up.

Overall, my thoughts on our trip to the Euro mart were positive. Yes, it's expensive, but it's a specialty store catering to a small community. I won't let the prices stop me from coming here when I need stuff like fillo dough or Slavic beers, just because they're things I can't get elsewhere.

After we paid and left, we took our friend grocery shopping so she could get some needed items and then took her home. She was grateful for the errand and was immensely pleased with our car.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Update on the Crib

Hello again, dear readers!

I thought I'd take some time to let you all know how the crib is coming along. A few weeks back, I wrote about how my daughter had outgrown her baby cradle and needed a bigger bed. Some friends gave us their daughter's old crib, but it was in need of a paint job after being exposed to the elements in what was once our poorly-roofed shed (that problem is now fixed, thankfully). I have the paint, the sandpaper, the caster wheels for mobility, and brushes to complete this project. Now, I present my progress.

At the beginning, this was the crib

For the past few weeks, usually in the evening when the sun is setting and there is more shade in the yard, I've been diligently sanding off the old paint using some 60 grit sandpaper. Due to the way the crib is designed, I've had to sand it down all by hand because a sanding wheel would have been too impractical (and costly). Let me just state that anyone who tells you that sanding is easy should be smacked BECAUSE MY HANDS AND ARMS ARE SORE!! I think I'm turning into an old woman and getting carpal tunnel syndrome in my hands from this project. Also, there's alot of dust that gets kicked up with sanding furniture. Thank goodness the paint is non toxic!

My sandpapers. 60 grit is for getting the old paint off, 150 grit is for roughing up the paint between coats

Well, today I finally finished sanding. I used up all five sheets that were in the little package and got about half the old paint off. My husband had to remind me not to go too hard on the sanding because the paint that wasn't easily coming off was just going to be painted over. The crib will still be white, but the surface paint will be roughed up enough to get the new coat of paint to stick.

Part-way through. Sanding furniture is alot harder than it looks...

Before I paint on the first coat, though, a bit of reinforcement is needed on the head and foot boards of the crib. Either the weather or rough handling caused it, but a side of the headboard is coming apart and the foot board has a side that is split near where the holes to insert the screws bolting the leg to the board go. I am NOT letting my kid sleep in something that could become a safety hazard down the road (hell, I'D be apprehensive about sleeping in a bed which featured these structural defects too), so I'm taking care of this now before I go any further. The rest of the frame is alright, though. Some strong glue and a few well-placed screws should take care of this problem.

All done! My arms hurt...

So this is where I'm at now. I'll keep you all updated as this project progresses. This is the first big DIY project that I've done, so I want the results to be a point of pride. Stay tuned!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Churches

Hello dear readers. I hope your Sunday has been going well.

While I'd planned on going to our Latin Mass church today, we overslept (it's a little hard to wake up early and get to church when Mass is at 10AM) and went to our favorite Carmelite church instead. In a way, I'm glad we went there instead of our Latin Mass church. For one, there was a class that had been preparing for First Communion and today they got to participate in the Sacrament for the first time. Due to the occasion, the parking lot was overflowing and we had to park in the lot of an auto shop across the street and run through the rain to get inside and find a seat. It was lovely to see all the boys and girls wearing their white suits and fancy dresses to mark their first step towards full participation in the Church. It makes me look forward to when my daughter will be old enough to have her First Communion too. If I can't afford to buy her a fancy white dress for her First Communion, then I will compromise by getting her the nicest white dress I can afford and giving her lots of mendhi instead.

Our homeboy padre distributes First Communion

After the Mass, our homeboy padre then invested the First Communion kids with their Brown Scapular. This is a common Catholic tradition that originated from the Carmelites in which a necklace of brown string with small brown flaps made from a Carmelite wool habit is ritually placed on someone's neck. It stems from a vision in which the Virgin Mary gave the scapular to San Juan de la Cruz with the instruction that anyone who wears it (and says the proscribed prayers daily) until death will not burn in hell (the wearer must also make a serious attempt to live their life in accordance with the Church's teachings and participate in the Sacraments as well). Contrary to what some might think, a Brown Scapular is not a good luck charm. As our homeboy padre instructed us in one of his sermons, the Brown Scapular is more like an insurance policy-if you want to be protected from something bad (eternal damnation), you have to make your monthly (daily) payments.

Our homeboy padre invests the Brown Scapular on the First Communion recipients

Unfortunately, these were the only two clear images I could get of the ceremony. Every time I turned the flash off, the pictures would come out horribly blurry, no matter how still I held the camera

Once we got home and had lunch, I turned on my computer to relax and see what was new in the world while the baby took her nap. Just last night, I'd visited a "Traditional" Catholic website (which I refuse to link to and give them more traffic than they already get) and read their predictable freakout reaction to Pope Francis' latest papal work, Amoris Laetitia. Normally, I don't bother commenting on this particular website because I feel my IQ lower by a few points every time I visit (they occasionally post some good stuff, but for every one good article there are one hundred articles of pure paleo-conservative puddery. Also, playing the game "find the logical fallacies" with every article I read really makes me question the intelligence of their writers ), but I felt compelled to respond because the writer included a video of a South Indian Jesuit priest who dances bharatanatyam as part of his ministry, calling his performance feminine and heretical. As someone who is a longtime lover of India and has diligently, independently studied its many cultures, traditions, and religions over the last thirteen years, I pointed out to the writer what the priest was doing, some background on the dance, and that the priest had simply modified a traditional South Indian religious temple dance to be a tool of evangelizing Catholicism. India, as the priest pointed out in the video, has a long established tradition of dance as a part of worship unlike in the West where dance is viewed more or less as a secular activity. Needless to say, my attempt at educating the readers about something outside of the realm of the White Anglo-Saxon/northern Europe/'Murica did not go over well. So much for instructing the ignorant...

This exchange served to highlight something that has bugged me ever since my hubby and I reestablished regular attendance at the Latin Mass church. I've become more and more aware of an attitude among both the parishioners attending the church and Traditional Latin Mass-promoting writers/websites online who view the Latin Mass as an exclusive club. If you belong to a certain socio-economic strata (middle/upper-class), live in the "right" areas (the suburbs or suburban areas within city limits) and have the "right" political views (right-wing conservative/fascist), then you are welcome to come. In other words, if you are a Catholic WASP, you are preferred company and all Others need not darken the door. There also appears to be a racial element to this elitism, as anyone (or anything) that is not western European or sufficiently "White" is bad. It's not just the example of the bharatanatyam-dancing Jesuit, but closer to home, our Latin Mass parish is overwhelmingly ethnically White. There are some Mexicans and a Chinese, but I have observed that just about all of them are married to White families and have adopted the bourgeois attitudes that come with being a middle-class White person in America. The one old-school Mexican is relegated to being the usher because he's as brown as the parish will tolerate; they have him collecting the money and making sure the door to the kiddie ghetto isn't locked during Mass.

Wise words from Matthew. Pic found here

This kind of pharisaic attitude bugs the shit out of me because I love the Latin Mass. I wish it were made more available so that others like my pious Mexican neighbors and friends might know and benefit from the graces that come from this particular aspect of the Body of Christ. But, with assholes like the Latin Mass outfits I've encountered in life and online, I can see why many Catholics never hear of the Latin Mass and if they do, they perceive it as being snobby or otherwise unavailable to them. I'm not convinced, but I'm seriously beginning to wonder if the Latin Mass is being used as a front for unsavory elements to invade and split the Church. My husband believes it to be so, based on an encounter he had about seven years ago.

My hubby told me of a man he met in late 2008 who attended the 8AM morning Mass at the Latin Mass church every day. Eventually, this man quit coming to the Latin Mass church and at his last attendance, he told my husband that this church was full of freemasons. My husband didn't believe this man and continued to attend Mass at the Latin Mass church for a few more years until I came into his life. Now, he is sure the man he met all those years ago was right. My husband had his suspicions, but it took our marriage to blow the cover on everything. Our marriage, exile and return, as well as the presidential elections have combined and created a perfect storm to unveil something sinister lurking at the Latin Mass church where we first met and baptized our child. The inmates have, quite literally, taken over the asylum and driven away all but a few who have intelligence and aren't barking fascists.

So now, to save our souls and sanity, we must step back from the Latin Mass church once more. We will still continue to visit, but not as often as we did before. We will continue to attend our Carmelite church as per our usual arrangement, but now we've added the church where my hubby and I got married to our rotation. Our daughter's godmother goes there, Mass is at a reasonable time, and the priest who married us is the rector. It's painful to have to break up again with the Latin Mass church, but a big part of belonging to a church is what kind of people you go to church with. It's one thing to go to Mass, but there is a major social aspect to being a part of a parish. I could never understand why people just say "I'm just here for Mass" because by not getting to know who is a part of your faith community, you're missing out on a crucial part of being Catholic! It's good to be around people who can help you to grow in faith and provide support when needed.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

The Family Visit

Hello, dear readers!

My apologies for not writing recently. I've been very busy working on the baby's crib, the car, and then this week, my family came down to Arizona to visit me (also because my dad has a conference to attend in Phoenix), so I had to spend a few days cleaning and tidying up the house. I normally push for it in one go, but babies have a way of preventing that from happening.

Originally, my mom and grandmother wanted to come and visit on Wednesday, but my hubby had to work and so we told them Thursday would be the better day. If they were gonna take the time to come down and visit, it would be better if all of us were home. They reluctantly agreed, but as it turned out, the daughter of a longtime friend of my grandmother's was in town and she stopped by for a visit so nobody was lonely.

Unfortunately, despite feeling optimistic about their arrival, this visit by my family was not a pleasant one. Despite the stalemate that is currently in place, the family feud which drove me out of Illinois and back here to Arizona still has not been resolved. Tensions boiled up again over lunch at a renowned local steakhouse when my mom inadvertently admitted to force-feeding me squash as a baby, and laughed while describing my "do not like" face. I do not, nor have I ever liked squash, and to know that I'd had the stuff shoved down my throat without regard to whether it was something I might not like was unsettling to say the least. Call it petty or an overreaction, but I'm not a fan of force-feeding, regardless of whether the food being shoved down the gob is "good for me" or not. I might have overlooked this faux pas years ago, but parenthood has sensitized me to issues surrounding food and children.

Scene from lunch. Baby got to sit in the big people's chair!

Things just went downhill after that. While hubby and my mom went to Home Depot to get some lumber, I stayed home with my grandmother and the baby. Tensions erupted again due to our different parenting styles. My grandmother is old-school and believes picking up/holding children often spoils them, whereas I am of the opinion that you can never give a baby too much attention because attention helps the child feel secure and loved.

My mom bought those booties for me when I was a baby. They still had the Montgomery Ward's price tag on the wrapper!

Case in point: the baby jail. My grandma had me put the baby in the baby jail, despite me warning her that was not a good idea since the baby doesn't like being confined in there. Sure enough, the baby threw a fit but my grandma was able to keep her attention long enough for me to finish washing the leftover dishes in the sink. At that point, the baby, who was full from lunch and in need of a nap but in her usual characteristic self refused to lay down and sleep, became very cranky from fatigue. A quick nursing session sent her off to dreamland, and my grandmother helped me fold and put away the laundry that I'd brought in because the sky was getting dark and it looked like it was gonna rain.

Four generations, and Pest whom I insisted on holding for this family picture

When my hubby and mom came back from Home Depot, we took a few more pictures and they left, but not before my mom threw a hissy fit about my perceived time spent online and communications. I really don't spend much time on the computer because babies have a way of taking up all your time and attention (I'm offline most of the day, going on only at night after the baby has gone to sleep to cruise Facebook, watch videos and write), but in her mind, I'm online all day and neglecting the baby while playing games and talking to "uneducated whores" on Facebook. My denial of such an absurd idea only served to reinforce it in her mind because save for the once-in-a-blue-moon emails, my communication with her is limited. It's not out of malice, but out of a desperate attempt to preserve my sanity and well being are the reasons why I rarely talk to her. Family feuds combined with personality issues (I suspect that my mother is a narcissist, given her die-hard petty-bourgeois elitist attitude) can do this. Needless to say, hubby and I were relieved when the two old women left. It served to reinforce how NOT to raise children.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

One Pot Zesty Chicken Rice with Black Beans

Good evening, dear readers!

Chef Tamtam has made a comeback! After last night's dud dinner, I was looking to redeem myself in the kitchen. That cilantro still needed eating, so it was time to look for another recipe that included the damn thing. I knew chicken would be the perfect accompaniment to the cilantro, since I was tired of just rice. Though I hate cooking chicken because I tend to either vulcanize or undercook it, I knew I had to face this demon of my kitchen because chicken is something I enjoy eating and there will be times where my family will want to eat some. I got some boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which were on sale at the grocery store since I considered them a good starting point.

Though I don't go on it much nowadays, I took a stroll on Pinterest to see if the site had any ideas for cilantro and chicken. Sure enough, there was one recipe that stood out: a one pan cilantro-lime chicken with rice and black beans. I scrolled through the recipe and it looked fairly easy. I had most of the ingredients too.

Time to get to work. Tonight's ingredients for the main dish!

Being the kind of person that I am, I almost never follow a recipe exactly as it's written. I usually have to tweak something about it either to enhance the taste or because it was an experimental whim. I did not have the can of green chilies that the recipe called for, but because we eat chili fairly frequently here, I had plenty of cans of chili tomatoes (tomatoes with green chili peppers already included) that could be used. Also, the recipe called for minute rice, which I did not have. I have brown rice by the bag and a large coffee can filled with white rice, so this would have to suffice.

All set! Everything is chopped and ready to go

I started off as usual, chopping my vegetables and the meat. Since I don't have a kitchen scale, I just guesstimated how much chicken I would need and I used about half the pack of chicken (it weighed in at a little over 3 lbs). I also made it a point to go light on the cilantro, given the overpowering result from yesterday. I washed the rice as usual, letting the bowl sit under the running faucet until the spillover was clear and giving the rice an occasional stir to get the starch up. Finally, I prepared 3 cups of chicken broth, using some powdered stock we keep in the pantry since I didn't have the broth in liquid form already.

Sauteing the chicken. Are you afraid of me?!

Just after adding the beans

I've added the rice and remaining broth at this point

Given my tumultuous history with cooking chicken, I was careful to watch the pieces as they sauteed in the oil over medium heat. I also periodically would break up the pieces and see how pink it was inside. Once I was satisfied with how white the meat was, I added the garlic and onions, letting them saute together. I then added the contents of the chili tomato and black bean cans. I never drain the cans because I think the juices enhance the dish. I then squeezed in the remaining juice from my dried-out limes, dumped the rice in, and added the chicken broth before proceeding to cover the pan and letting the rice soak in the liquid for about 20 minutes. I added the cilantro in at the last few minutes of cooking and let everything sit for a bit before eating.

Tada! All done (note: I have no idea why the image is rendering sideways, even though I took the pic normally. My browser does this sometimes. It's weird and annoying)

My hubby was very pleased with the result. I hadn't overcooked or undercooked the chicken, which was my biggest concern, and the end result was a flavorful blend of tomato and chicken with a hint of cilantro and spice from the peppers. I was proud of myself because now I know I can cook a chicken and cook it well.

Try this recipe out for yourself. I think you'll like it too.

One-Pot Zesty Chicken Rice with Black Beans

1-1.5 lb chicken thighs
4 green onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of white rice
1 can of chili tomatoes (do not drain)
1 can of black beans (do not drain)
4 limes
3 cups of chicken broth (if using powdered stock, it's 1 tsp stock per 1 cup of water)
1/3 cup cilantro
canola oil for frying
salt and pepper

Chop the green onions and separate the light-colored parts from the darker colored parts, mince garlic and finely chop (or cut) the cilantro. Cut the chicken thighs into small pieces, about an inch in size, taking care to remove excess fat, skin, and bones. Measure out rice and wash until water runs clear, set aside. Prepare broth, if necessary.

Over medium heat, add a spot of canola oil to the frying pan and add the chicken. Saute the chicken until it is cooked all the way through (times vary), adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the light colored parts of the onion first and the garlic, let saute until translucent. Then add the contents of the canned chili tomatoes and black beans. Squeeze in the lime juice and add as much of the pulp as you can. Finally, add rice and pour in the stock. Stir, then cover the pan and let boil for about 20 minutes. Check and stir periodically.

Around the 17 minute mark, add in the remaining cilantro and give a final stir. Cover the pan, let sit for a few minutes until the rice is done and turn off the heat. Let the pan rest for a few minutes, then serve.

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