Monday, October 27, 2008

The Sweater II Update and Yardwork

The delicious feel of fall in the air and the smell of fires in fireplaces are some of the signals of my favorite time of the year. Our maple tree in the front yard is Christmas red right now (our small maple, Mavis, has still not turned any colors yet) and I spent a few hours yesterday raking leaves and getting ready to re-seed the lawn. It was a great weekend to be outdoors!

But some of my favorite things about the fall are sitting by the fire and reading a good book and bundling up in flannel sheets and cozy blankets at night. I sleep so wonderfully in the cold weather. It is also a time when I enjoy my knitting more.

It is not fun to have a hot sweater on your lap in the summer and work on knitting it with sweaty hands, and so naturally I didn't get a lot done on The Sweater II this summer. But I am 1.5 inches from finishing the back as of this weekend! I will post a picture when it is done and off the needles. I think I'll work on the sleeves next before starting the front piece, to add a bit of variety (the front is identical to the back).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicken with Corn Salsa Recipe

Another week in the field, but fun thing is this project is in Charlotte so I get to come home every night!

The other night I felt like making something really easy, but didn't want to have to resort to a box. Ok, I did use a jar of something, but for the most part it was a very fresh food dinner, the flavors went well together and with very little time involved(15-20 minutes).

1 jar of Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa
4 chicken breasts
1 head of broccoli
8 oz of sliced baby bella mushrooms
grapeseed oil (healthy and relatively low fat)

Heat a few Tbs. of grapeseed oil in a large frying pan,season chicken with cumin, salt, pepper and paprika. When oil is hot add the chicken breasts.

Meanwhile, slice the polenta (I've never had polenta before so don't know if I was doing this the traditional way) into 1/4" slices and add to the pan with the chicken.

Heat a pot of water to boiling. Meanwhile cut the broccoli and then add to the pot of boiling water.

Heat another pan with 1 Tbs. of grapeseed oil.

Flip the chicken and polenta after lightly brown. Add corn salsa.

Add mushrooms to new pan of hot oil and saute until brown.

Serve with the corn salsa on top of the chicken and polenta, with mushrooms and broccoli on the side.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Short Story: "The Lone Tomato"

It all started back when the tomato plant was very young... no, I must go back further. It all started with the summer drought, nearly dead grass and a sudden surge of rain...

We live in a home owner association where I'd estimate half of the people who live here either work from home or are retired. So "keeping up with the Joneses" is a big deal here. When one person gets sod, everyone starts getting sod. Except for us.
So back in the spring and summer when everyone had dry to dead grass because of the water restrictions, no body was really bothering with seeding and lawn beautifying because what's the point? However, we suddenly got a lot of rain all within a few days from Saturday to Monday, let's say, and subsequently by Wednesday, we, along with everyone else, got long shoots of "grass" that sprang up overnight.
On Friday, Paul was home and got a knock on the door by Mrs. Neighbor who was happy to announce we were getting a fine from the homeowner's association for our long grass that was "an eyesore." We had been really good pals with Mrs. and Mr. Neighbor up until this point, so it was a surprise how excited she was. Paul leaned down and looked across at her lawn and said, "Huh. Doesn't look any longer than yours." And so ensued a semi-polite discourse during which she said she was getting it cut tomorrow, and Paul said that we were doing the same, pointing out that we really only get to yard work on the weekend, and it had not even been a week since the grass grew.
He afterwards called the homeowners association president and asked why our neighbors are being informed we are getting fined before we are. She said, "oh, that's not the case. Only the people on the board know who's getting fined, or the people who report the incident. Your neighbor is not on the board." So started the seething anger.
Needless to say, we rushed out to buy a lawnmower which we had not bothered to do before because no grass was growing. We bought it late that night, and stealthily backed into the garage so Mrs. Neighbor couldn't see that we just ran out to get one. We assembled it with the garage door closed and woke up to mow at 7:00 on Saturday.
We also mowed the next door neighbor's lawn, Mrs. Nice who we were told by Mrs. Neighbor was also getting reported. Mrs. Nice lives up in New York and is still trying to sell her house there. So she wouldn't know about the state of affairs down here and that she was being reported. I have to admit, I mowed her lawn at the time, mostly out of anger towards Mrs. Neighbor, who I thought I'd kill with kindness, and it worked. Mrs. Neighbor told me repeatedly that I should not be cutting Mrs. Nice's lawn. I told her that I thought it unfair that Mrs. Nice is getting fined for suddenly rampant growing grass when she's not here to see it and arrange accordingly. She had nothing to say to this and would walk away, only to repeat the plea next time.
As it turned out, the "grass" was a case of rampant weeds because they grew up every few days. It was tough for everyone in the neighborhood because it meant either mowing every few days or pulling them all up by hand, which is what I did in our yard and part of Mrs. Nice's yard after the second week.

With time, Mrs. Neighbor and I became on friendlier terms again, but not without telling her I knew she wasn't on the board, and subtly let her know we knew what she had done. And then throughout the weeks she became more complimentary and saying how nice our shrubs were, and "my that tomato is looking good!" I had one small tomato plant in a container on my front porch and it was growing the most delicious looking tomato, and everyday I talked with Mrs. Neighbor, she admired it and said it was doing so much better than hers. I told her I was nurturing it carefully and gave it plenty of water.

Then, the day after the last admiration, at the peak of tomato ripeness, I went out the front door to go to work and the tomato was gone! Nipped clean from the vine with no remnants suggesting an animal had taken it. I immediately came to the conclusion that spiteful Mrs. Neighbor took it because she was jealous of my tomato and also upset that I was cutting Mrs. Nice's lawn.
I went into work feeling angry and after talking to several colleague's at work, my boss agreed it sounded like the workings of a thief, and so he devised a plan to bring me a bushel of tomatoes from his backyard to take over to Mrs. Neighbor. He said that I needed to take them to her and say, "I know how much you like tomatoes so I thought I'd share the wealth. These were the backyard tomatoes (notice I wasn't to say who's backyard) and they had done much better than the one in the front yard." By watching her reaction, I would be able to tell if she was the thief. My boss, Agent C, has a talent in these things, so I took him up on the offer.

True to his word, Agent C. brought me in a bushel of dirty, very backyard-looking Roma tomatoes, some with holes and everything, to look legit. I brought them home and had all intentions of going over to Mrs. Neighbor's but found that she and her husband were on vacation for two weeks. Oh well.

Weeks later, long after we had enjoyed all of Agent C's tomatoes (he was disappointed that the plan flopped), I was talking to Mrs. Neighbor, not really angry about the grass and one little tomato anymore, and she complimented me on the next two tomatoes coming in. "I had that one from a few weeks ago stolen you know," I told her. She couldn't believe it, adding that the bench in her front yard was stolen the night before, and a lady down the street had her watermelon stolen. Huh. All that hoopla and planning for nothing! So I told her I was going to move my tomato plant to the back porch instead and it has been fine since.
It was a valuable lesson in how anger can snowball and cause unreasonable stress and desire for revenge over something that was originally something so small and petty.
The funniest thing is that it has never been the showiest or most proliferate plant! Here she is in all her glory:


Friday, October 10, 2008

Agent S

Another busy 10 day shift in Hendersonville, with more fun at the Waverly Inn. A few days into my stay, John, Diane and Darla, the innkeepers headed out on vacation. I was a little sad because they always make me feel like I'm coming home after a busy day at work. The fun thing is that the "innsitters" that came in to cover for them were every bit as welcoming and the transition was seamless.

On the second day of Jim and Susan's reign, I came back from work and they asked me if I knew anything about an auditor from my company arriving. I usually get a safety audit once a week and since I already had one that week, I was not expecting another one. "No, I don't know any more auditors arriving this week." Susan said, "Oh, well, we were just wondering if you knew if he was going to be a late check-in or not." I said that I was sorry I couldn't be of more help, but if it was a safety audit I was getting, then it was intended to be a surprise. Susan lowered her voice to a whisper and said, "We'll let you know one way or another if he arrives so that you have a warning." I laughed and admired her good humor.

Then next morning I came downstairs and my sausage and egg sandwich was wrapped in foil and sitting on the counter for me promptly at 6:30, same as what John normally does for me. I took it with me to eat on the drive to the site, and when I got in the truck and opened up the foil, there was a secret note in with my sandwich:

I laughed half the drive to work, and dubbed Susan "Agent S." I have dubbed all of us who can perform covert operations. I am Agent K of course, my dearest friend Laurie, Agent L, who I worked with in California, is one of the sneakiest of all when it comes to finding out the latest office news. My sister is Agent H and is real good with agent speak, and Mom is Agent M, pretty newly installed. Agent S is the newest recruit, and will do just fine holding down the mountain post in North Carolina. We had so much fun talking the rest of the week, and I'm sad that she will be gone when I go up there again in a few weeks.