Stage Fright

So, on Twitter, people are confessing at what stage of quarantine they currently occupy.

     For example, Pigeon Fancier wrote: “What stage of quarantine are you at, me I’m wearing a foofy bathrobe 24/7, drinking everything out of a champagne flute, calling the house spiders “dahling” in a transatlantic accent”

     As for myself, I’m at the stage that I’ve grown so used to wearing a mask that once this is all over, I’m contemplating taking a job as a stagecoach robber.

     And, I’m at the stage of quarantine where I’ve taken to shouting, “Social Distancing!” at crowd scenes in movies, such as The Ten Commandments, the beach scene in Jaws, and the ball in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.

     After years of familiarity, I’ve put together a list of where on the quarantine spectrum friends and family possibly (probably) reside.

     Petey, well-known for his taciturnity, is at the stage where he’s become positively chatty with folks he meets while walking the dog.  He actually spoke with a neighbor the other day for a full 90 seconds.

     The Kid has been so deprived of human companionship that furniture and accessories around the house have become anthropomorphized.  The child spends much of the day breaking up medical disputes between Doc Martens and Dr. Pepper, and refereeing refrigerator brawls between Duke’s Mayonnaise and a bowl of spaghetti that’s gone bad and joined a gang.

     My mom is a notorious clean freak, whose dirtiest surface in her house is still clean enough to perform neurosurgery on.  She’s at the stage where she’s begun removing the drywall from rooms to, “Really get into those nooks and crannies”.

     My father, who gets more done before lunch than I do in a month has begun cutting the grass with a pair of nail clippers, because edging and trimming with them gave him the control he was looking for.  Whenever my mother took a bath my father, the former Coast Guard rescue swimmer maintained a constant vigil in case of an accident.

     My mother has since switched to showers.

     For a couple of weeks, family friend Chef Chrissie has been playing a version of Chopped; a game in which you have a time limit to prepare dishes using four random ingredients.  Because Chrissie lives alone, he plays against an imaginary opponent with make-believe judges.

     He’s still looking for his first win.

     Maxie, one of my oldest and closest friends, and his husband Mark have three dogs.  They’re at the stage where they’ve made costumes and backdrops to stage an all-canine rendition of Downton Abbey.  The unfortunate effect is that two of the pooches have become unforgivably snooty.  And the pup who plays the butler keeps drinking all the sherry.

     Another friend of mine has drafted a list of enemies from high school, forty years ago.  She has no idea where most of them are today, but if she were to run into one of them, she has a rapier-sharp retort for the sick burn given to her in third-period French class sophomore year.

     A young friend of mine who has twin toddlers is at the stage where she’s been thinking about teaching her children to become bartenders, except their little legs are too short to reach the freezer and no matter how many times she shows them, they can’t make a decent dry martini.

     I hope you enjoyed what is mostly a fictional list.

     But quarantine is awful, and hard on us all.  If you’re struggling and need some help, or just want somebody to talk to, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on their Helpline at 800-950-NAMI.  Or in a crisis,  text “NAMI” to 741741.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Healing Begins When The Hurt Is Acknowledged & Shared

*Warning: If you think Covid19 is a hoax, you use the term, “lamestream media”, or you think this virus is a plot to influence an election, stop reading now.  The remainder of this column will only upset you and reinforce any notion you have that I am a deluded fool.

You’ ve been warned.

I’ll tell you a secret.  After being married to a nurse for years, and being around many hospital workers, I have learned something.

Medical folk ain’t quite right.

Every single day, they put others’ well being above their own.

When most people are cocooning and withdrawing from the world, nurses, doctors, lab staff, respiratory therapists, and every other human that works to heal and ensure our health keep on going.

And many have family with high-risk factors so haven’t seen or touched their parents, or children, or spouses in months in order to avoid exposing loved ones to the virus.

There are workers who’ve had family members born or pass away, but because they are considered a possible carrier of infection weren’t able to say hellos or goodbyes.  

I have a friend who has just graduated as a Doctor Nurse.  She has a Ph.D. in nursing. 

Throughout her studies, she has continued to work full time as an intensive care nurse at a very large university hospital.  There’s not enough PPE.  Early on, Petey and I found a box of N95 masks from his own nursing days.  We gave them to her.

In intensive care, where the normal ratio is one or two patients per nurse, the new ratio is four patients for each nurse, due to drastic nursing shortages and also hiring freezes, because money is in even shorter supply than protective gear.

Until there is a steady supply of reliable tests, the true number of Covid19 positive patients won’t be known.  But what is known is that there are countless untested patients admitted with unmistakable symptoms of the virus. 

And before the news was talking about meat processing outbreaks, they were getting multiple admissions a day from the plants—many don’t speak English, had no contact information, and were too sick or frightened to give a medical history to staff.

Right now, my friend is not working with current coronavirus patients.  She had worked four straight weeks without a break when her nurse manager made her rotate out.  The masks we gave her are currently being used because even when working with patients who have recovered from COVID and are still very sick, there are not enough masks for employees. 

And this devotion to caring for complete strangers at their own detriment is not new.  The very last day Petey ever worked before his career-ending illness, he was so sick, that after his shift, they had to bring him off his unit in a wheelchair.

Everybody knows frontline medical workers.  They’re the same kind that devoted their lives to their fellow man back when Petey was nursing, and it will be the same type of humans caring for us when Covid19 is just a horror story in our rearview.

So, give them some love.  Buy them some PPE.  Carry homemade dinner to their families.  Make a batch of cupcakes for them to take to work.  Or just stand six feet away, and say, “Thank you.  I am so grateful to you for your devoted service.”

“To do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through…that is what it is to be a nurse.” – Rawsi Williams, Nurse and Attorney.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pink Sauce

*This column was originally written in 2011.  But The Kid’s birthday is next week, and this week I’ll be working on gathering the ingredients to cook the sauce this weekend.  So, I thought it was appropriate to re-run.  I hope you enjoy, and try making this wonderful, versatile sauce.

 So, The Kid came home a few days ago, finished with six months of summer internship and first-time completely independent living.  Petey and I filled the fridge with childhood favorites like Clementines and RC Cola and counted the hours.

I made a big pot of childhood’s favorite guilty pleasure; pink sauce.

Despite being the child of an Italian girl from Jersey, I have never liked red sauce (called Sunday gravy by my mom and her sisters).  Consequently, I never made it.  If Petey or The Kid wanted spaghetti and meatballs, they had to leave home, and get their fix on the streets. 

Because I wanted to make some kind of spaghetti for the family, but mainly because I’m always looking for something thick and yummy to ladle onto carbs, I came up with this coral-colored, indulgent concoction. 

I invented this recipe before I could really cook, and The Kid has loved it for years.  This sauce is not for the faint of heart.  It should be no more than an occasional treat if you want to fit into your jeans or look your doctor in the eye.  Fat is flavor and can be the culinary equivalent of false eyelashes and push-up bra for the novice cook.

A big pot of this bubbling velvet starts the day before the finished dish.  I make a batch of meatballs.  My walnut-sized offerings are made with a mixture of ground veal and pork.  Before the meat even comes out of the fridge, I make a panade.  A panade is a bread ripped into tiny pieces and soaked until saturated.

My soak is egg, cream, shredded Parm, finely chopped garlic, chiffonade of basil, a splash of both olive oil and marsala wine, and salt and pepper.  When the bread and the soak are one, I break the ground meat into small pieces and lightly mix, almost folding the mixture together.  If you go nuts and mix your meatballs too much, they will be rubbery and dry.

I can’t fry a spherical meatball to save my life. So, I bake them, on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet, at 350 for twelve minutes, and a few minutes under the broiler flipped once.  This gives them some color that translates to flavor in the finished product. 

To get them uniform in size, I use a smallish cookie/portion scoop.  I roll them into balls, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and a little bit of freshly ground nutmeg.  About eighteen or so go in the sauce, and any extra goes in the freezer for future use.

The sauce itself is pretty simple.  I brown 10-12 Italian sausages that I’ve cut into one-inch slices.  I remove them from the pot and carmelize about 1 1/2 pounds of sliced mushrooms, a small onion chopped, and five or six chopped cloves of garlic.  Then I add back the sausage and a can of tomato paste.  When the paste has cooked to a deep burgundy, I deglaze with a cup of marsala.  When the wine is almost gone, I dump in a quart of chicken stock and 2 cups of cream.  Into it I put a couple of tablespoons of sundried tomatoes, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, a tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of chopped basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. 

When it comes to a boil, I thicken it slightly with a peanut butter-colored roux and add the meatballs.  It then slowly cooks for hours on the stovetop. 

When we’re ready to eat, I toss in another handful of chopped basil for fresh flavor. 

I serve it on spaghetti, bake it into ziti, and use it on a ton of other things.  The Kid is convinced it would be tasty on an old tennis shoe.  Tonight, we’re having leftover sauce on rice, my personal favorite.

Thanks for your time.  

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pollyanna Called…

It’s the nature of the beast to want to do…something.

But we’ve been told the most important thing we can do is stay home, and wait.  It’s taken a week or so, but most people have gotten the message.  The streets are almost empty, and #socialdistancing has replaced #Renegade on TikTok (the Renegade’s a dance and TikTok’s a social media platform featuring short videos).

But there are things you can do.

Donate to any one of the relief efforts.  There are religious charities, the United Way, country musicians, dancers, bar and restaurant employees, you name it.  Honestly, whatever your interest or concern, there is probably a fund.

I know, Gentle Reader, that I don’t have to remind you, but please urge others to make sure the cause to which they’re donating is legit.  Just like the turkey vultures that show up at every roadkill, scammers are working overtime to separate people of goodwill from their money.

Donate blood.  The Red Cross is suffering from a severe shortage of blood.  There are many area blood drives, just google “blood drives near me”.  Or visit redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment at your local Red Cross facility.

 Last Thursday I donated blood for the first time.  I made an appointment, went in, and in an hour I was done. Honestly, the registration took more time than the actual donation.  And you get snacks and juice boxes.  But, get a ride, especially if it’s your first time.  For the rest of the day, I was swooning around like a Southern belle at a topless beach. 

I am absolutely not recommending blood donation as a diet aid, but a whole blood donation is 470 ml, which weighs exactly one pound—just saying.

Cook for others.  Whether it’s for neighbors, friends, and family who don’t or can’t cook, or health care workers. 

Send a friend in the hospitality business an email of support.  Tell them you’re thinking of them and you will be there for them when this is all over.  Check on someone who’s been furloughed.  Get some take out or delivery. 

Before the stay at home orders came, I thought they might be.  So I bought a pack of blank note cards.  I’ll mail some to friends and family.  But I mainly bought them for my neighbors.  And at night, when I take my dog out for one last walk, I’ll slip them in mailboxes.  When things feel scary and it seems like we’ll be locked up ‘til the end of time, they’ll hopefully be a happy little surprise to brighten someone’s day.

And don’t forget to add your phone number so they can contact you if needed.

Be nice.  Nobody walking the earth has ever lived through anything like this.  People are scared and angry.  They want answers and assurances that won’t be coming.  The news is changing constantly and everybody is off-kilter.

Showing patience and kindness might be the best thing you can do, and the one thing that people surely need.  Smile, wave, offer to pick up a few things if you have to go out to grocery or drugstore.    

Do the thing for someone else that if done for you would make your own journey easier.

Even now, there’s still an outlying population who because of ignorance, hubris, or politics are paying no heed to the pleas of the medical community and government.  They are eschewing hand washing and social distancing.  They are going to the beach, the club, and having parties.

To those people I have one personal plea: please do nothing.

Nothing at all.  It’s the least you can do.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Girl With The Street In Her Face

Another second-grader in a pretty blue dress.

I was wearing one of my very favorite dresses in my second-grade photo.  It was a light-gauge knit in a combination of navy blue and what back then was called harvest gold.

My hair was cut in a shag.  My mom’s best friend, Mizz Judy cut it in a perfect replica of TV mom Carol Brady.  For those not familiar with the style, it was short and layered in the front, and long and flipped up in the back.

It wasn’t quite a mullet (business in the front, party in the back).  It was more “funny business in the front and PTA mom in the back. 

The photo from the tenth grade is a self-portrait (OMG-it was a selfie. Yuck!).  I’m wearing jeans, a huge gray fisherman’s sweater, and standing in front of the mirror in our guest bathroom.      

I’m taking the shot with my Konika TC camera, which hides most of my face. 

I was the very chic-est combination of Avedon and Diane Arbus.

The two pictures have something very odd in common.

The face that was wearing the shag haircut was one large, weeping scab.  Almost all of the skin had been abraded and was in the process of healing. 

In the later photo, if you look closely around the camera, it too is more scab than skin.  It looked like it had been on the wrong end of an electric belt sander.

Not me; but I was so traumatized by the incidents, just looking this gives me a jolt in the pit of my stomach. I literally got nauseous looking for an image to put here.

In both cases the culprit was asphalt.

One weekend when I was in high school, a friend, Billy Winston came over for a visit on his new motorcycle.  I asked him if I could go for a ride.  After a short lesson, he sent me on my way. 

I wanted to speed up.  Billy told me to get into second gear.

Unfortunately, he neglected to tell me that you shouldn’t accelerate and shift gears at the same time.

Yeah, it didn’t look anywhere near as cool.

Because if you do those two things at the same time, you begin performing a stunt referred to as, “popping wheelies”. 

The motorcycle and I parted ways.

I was fully clothed, but it looked a lot more like this.

I landed face down on the street, and the bike was on its side.  It had a few scratches, but my face was a mess.  Dad scooped me up and we headed to the emergency room.

Back a few years at Central Elementary, our gym teacher had a new game for us called Brownies & Fairies.  At some point in the game, the two teams face off and run at each other like the blue guys versus the British in Braveheart.

I was face down on the black top, but I’m pretty sure this is a photo of the actual event…

The very first step I took, I tripped and face-planted onto our black-topped playground.  I was then trampled by thirty-five second-graders.  It was like a cheese grater.  The majority of the skin on my mug was left on the asphalt.

The elementary school nurse washed my face and painted it with mercurochrome, a disinfectant which left me with a rosy-orange stain all over my kisser.  She then called Mom to come collect me.

At the ER after my motorcycle wreck, I was immediately given a tetanus shot.  Then the nurse entered with a basin of soapy water and a stack of gauze.  She explained that hundreds of tiny bits of asphalt were stuck in my wounds.  If each and every piece wasn’t scrubbed out, they would remain, as little black bumps all over my face—forever.

See what happens when the asphalt isn’t removed?

I’d just been flung onto the street, face first and given that most painful of inoculations; the tetanus.  I hurt.

But in my fifteen years on the planet, I had never experienced pain like I felt when she scrubbed my scraped and oozing kisser.

And it was all because of that darn asphalt.

It’s a death trap, I tells ya!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Nutcracker Sweet

Baking and cooking from scratch forces you to slow down.  To put out a successful product, you need to take a breath, be in the moment, and pay attention.  

I know I bang it like a drum every single year, but during the holidays we do need to step back, slow down, regain our composure, and be deliberate in our actions and interactions.

Maybe me, more than any of you, Gentle Reader.

This week, I had a plan.  This would be the week that I shared the annual Christmas cookie recipe.  I was on top of my business.  I was a holiday role model.

Eagle-eyed readers, or indeed anyone with a memory just a tad longer than a hummingbird may have noticed a little flaw in my big plan.

Because, my cookie column ran a few weeks ago.  A.FEW.WEEKS.AGO.

So, this week I offer a totally scratch made pie.  With four components that aren’t dificult, but to be successful, you must be present in your own mind and kitchen.

As for me?

I’ll be busy checking to make sure I paid the light and cable bills.

Thanks for your time, and have the happiest of holidays.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pecan Caramel Apple Tart

Crust

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup plus ½ of 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup roasted pecans

¾ cup (1 & ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°.

Mix flour, sugar, and pecans  in food processor until pecans are finely ground. Add butter. Cut in with short pulses until mixture forms clumps.

Prepare 9-inch tart pan by lightly spraying with cooking oil spray. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of pan. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze 15 minutes.

Bake crust at 425°(400° if using dark colored or non-stick pan) until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Transfer crust (leave in tin) to rack and let cool. When crust has cooled, fill.

Apple Filling

¾ cup gran. sugar

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

12 gratings of nutmeg

½ tsp. salt

4 pounds apples, cored, peeled and sliced

4 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs. cornstarch

2 Tbs. brandy

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup water

Mix sugar, cinnamon, and salt, and nutmeg.  Toss with apples. 

Heat butter in skillet until browned. Add apples, cover and cook until apples soften and release juices.  Uncover and continue to cook until pan is almost dry and fruit’s browned around the edges. 

Meanwhile, whisk liquids and cornstarch together and stir into apple mixture and bring to boil. Remove from heat.  When completely cool, pour into crust.

Caramel Topping

¼ cup milk

12 Kraft caramels

¼ cup chopped toasted pecans

1 teaspoon flaky salt

Combine milk and caramels and heat in microwave until caramels melt, then let cool.  Drizzle cooled caramel mixture over apple filling and top with toasted pecans.  Sprinkle top with sea salt

Cream topping

8 ounces cream cheese , room temperature 

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract  

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt  

2 cups heavy cream  

WHIPPED CREAM: Place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 ½ minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 ½ cups).

Pipe on top in decorative manner.  Refrigerate for 2 hours before service, and keep refrigerated.  Pop out of tin and place on cake plate for service.

Serves 8-10.