Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Always a Good Reason

Over the years, as I’ve been involved in various clubs, churches, and other groups, periodically something odd would happen. All of a sudden, I was no longer greeted with interest. I’d volunteer and no one would take me up on the offer. In a couple cases, I got dis-invited to some event or other. I suspect the people involved weren’t trying to be mean. I suspect they thought they were saving my feelings. And the first few times, I even bought it.

There was always a Good Reason for this rejection – just not the real one. The real reason was that I made somebody uncomfortable somehow. But the excuses I heard. Someone once said that I used too many big words. And the end result was always the same: I felt hurt and as if I was being marginalized -which, in fact, I was. These people were behaving badly and justifying it by having a Good Reason.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened to my friend and neighbor Roni last week. She woke up one morning and there was a SWAT team in her backyard. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened, but the officers had a warrant to search for some stolen computers on the premises. They didn’t find them, but still impounded my friend’s iPad until she could prove she owned it. At least she wasn’t arrested. Roni, by the way, is a hairdresser and this happened at her mother’s house. Her mother is a retired elementary school music teacher.

A SWAT team to recover some stolen goods? Yeah, that seemed more than a little heavy-handed to me, too. Roni’s Facebook feed lit up with that very sentiment. Although, the interesting thing was that few of Roni’s friends seemed surprised. Oh, wait. I forgot to add one critical detail. Roni and her mom are Black and we all live in the same mixed-race neighborhood, where we Whites are the minority.

I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t have sent the SWAT team to recover some stolen goods in my old, White neighborhood. I know they didn’t several years ago, when someone had a warrant served on him. They sent out a couple detectives and maybe a squad car. And that wasn’t the only time cops were called out for various and sundry crimes, including drug sales and use.

It’s a different story in my current neighborhood – where traffic stops routinely result in the drivers in cuffs sitting on the sidewalk. Where a hair-dresser gets guns pointed at her and her iPad impounded. Oh, yes, there’s a Good Reason for the way these things are handled, but I find it very hard to believe that it’s the real reason. The real reason is that the people involved are Blacks and Hispanics. But in each individual case of this kind of injustice, someone is hiding behind a really Good Reason.

Now, I get that my experiences with a bunch of rampaging neurotics are a far cry from the very real harm of racism. But it’s the same behavior that perpetuates that same racism. People don’t want me around, but they don’t want to be mean, so they come up with a Good Reason for getting rid of me. We don’t want to be racist, so we assume police officers have a Good Reason for harassing innocent people, for kicking the bejeebers of perhaps not-so-innocent drunk drivers, for shooting or otherwise killing unarmed Black males. But the end result is the same – Black men are 19 times more likely to be killed by cops than White men. And that’s not even counting all the harassment and the SWAT teams being sent out needlessly. When we justify the inexcusable because there’s a Good Reason, we’re participating in that same injustice.

I’m not advocating that we assume the worst of all cops – that’s just as unjust. We just have to look at the results, and in this case, there’s a whole lot of injustice going on.

Maybe if more of us faced up to the reality that law enforcement treats people of color far differently than they do White people, maybe if more of us said this is bullshit, then maybe we could expect and demand law enforcement that treats all people fairly. Because when the end result is the same, there is never a Good Reason.

 

Carless in L.A. – It Takes Planning

Los Angeles Metro bus arrivingIt didn’t seem like any big deal. I was helping a friend do a mail-out and needed to pick up the letters and envelopes. So I called her and asked how much paper was involved. I just wanted to figure out if I needed to walk by her place before or after I did my other errands. If there was a lot of paper involved, I’d go by after the errands so I didn’t have to carry it around all day.

Seemed pretty normal to me, but then I’ve been getting around without a car for almost two years now and my friend totally relies on hers. So she was a little surprised and not sure what to make of it. But as I later explained, it’s what I do.

You see, it’s not that hard to get around Los Angeles without a car. But it does take some planning. If I need to get groceries for the week, I have to think about doing so before I leave home. I do keep some of those grocery bags that fold up into small packets in my backpack. But if I’m going to be getting milk and other heavy items, I generally need my granny cart.

People talk about living in the moment – and I generally prefer to. I just can’t all the time. I have to think two and three steps ahead sometimes because I have to account for the possibility of late buses. Or what the weather might be doing. Or what I’ll have to carry with me or bring home. I think about grabbing lunch in terms of whether I have time before the next bus comes – and it’s always a bit dicey when the lunch counter takes its sweet time and if I miss the coming bus, I’ll have to wait another hour. I once had a shop owner offer to make me a waffle and bring it to me at the stop. That way, if I had to leave before the waffle was ready, I didn’t have to pay for it. He got there in time and it was a damn good waffle.

So tomorrow is the trip to the podiatrist. I have a meeting with another friend after that and had to think about getting her mobile number just in case the bus runs late. Oh, and I really should have set the time for the meeting after I’d checked out how I was going to get to the podiatrist’s office. Oops. But I have her number. It’ll work out. At least, I’m planning on it.

The Sewing Report: Beautiful Patch Pockets

If only the damn pants fit.

It was so aggravating. Here, I’d done it. I’d taken the time to really think about and carefully cut out two patch pockets to go on a pair of corduroy semi-dress slacks. Actually, they were kind of on the casual side because of the inset on the inner leg seams. Instead of using a contrasting fabric – I thought I was being so clever – I cut the corduroy out with the nap running in the opposite direction.Well, I was being clever, dummit. Beautiful Patch Pockets

I was going to skip back pockets, then decided I wanted them after all and went several rounds of what if, debating whether to do dressier welt pockets or more casual patch pockets. Both have their downsides. Welts are more complicated to install and harder to fix if you mess something up. Patch pockets are easier to mess up, period. And they require that most noir of my bêtes: top stitching.

Beautiful Patch PocketsBut I nailed it. I did. You can’t see it in the photo, but the top stitching, carefully applied is almost perfectly straight. At least, straight enough for the three-foot rule. Let me explain that one – it’s my standard for do I fix it or let it go? If you’re not going to notice it’s off unless you’re standing closer to me than three feet, then I’ll let it go. The reasoning is simple. If you’re within three feet of me, then we’d better be on the kinds of terms you’re not going to give a rat’s patootie if something isn’t perfect. If we’re not on those kinds of terms, you’d better not be within three feet of me. I have my boundaries.

I was so pleased with my patch pockets. So I happily went on installing the zipper, putting bias-binding on my front waist (the plan was to elasticize the back waistband), basting the side seams together. Then I tried the pants on. Now, thanks to a gimpy foot, I haven’t been able to exercise that much lately, so I’ve probably put an extra ounce or two since I cut the project out. And I do tend to prefer lower-riding waistlines because I don’t have a waist, per se. Except that the top of the back of the pants barely covered my butt crack and that’s a lot lower than I prefer. Damn!

I can let out the side seams a bit and start walking again, which should help. The legs look gorgeous. I just have to figure out what to do about the low waist. I’m thinking a yoke. Well, maybe that’s next month’s Sewing Report.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: On the Making of Meatballs

IMG_20150222_181900248For a good many years, I simply did not get meatballs. I got the attraction. You can combine a variety of ground meats, including turkey, pork, lamb, beef. They can be a tasty way to integrate a yummy sauce. And they’re cute, especially if they’re small. Which also makes them great as a party food.

But the meatballs I tasted at my friends’ houses and in restaurants were really mushy. Blech. It didn’t take long to figure out that the mushiness came from the breadcrumbs that are added to the meat mix. It’s the bread that makes that icky texture. So I tried making meatballs every now and then, without the breadcrumbs, and they constantly fell apart in the pan. What a nuisance. That’s because the breadcrumbs were needed to act as a binder for the meat. An egg, while also a necessary part of the whole process, just wasn’t enough.

But meatballs are cute. They’re nice to have in the freezer to add to some brown rice, broth and veggies for a reasonably healthy lunch. And you can’t beat them as a way to soak up a nice sauce. I love sauces.IMG_20150222_183802376

So I tried again. But this time I only added a scant (as in almost) quarter cup – maybe not even that much – of panko crumbs to the ground turkey. This in addition to the egg, salt, pepper and in this case, some five spice powder because we were making the same sauce you use for Chinese Orange Chicken. And guess what? My meatballs held together and they weren’t at all mushy!

After the meatballs were browned, I took them out, gently stir-fried some broccoli, nuked the leftover rice in the fridge, added the meat back, then poured on the sauce and cooked it until it thickened slightly. The result was delicious and the meatballs can be used with a variety of different sauces, such as a broth or tomato sauce or alfredo sauce. Hm. Looks like I’ve got some experiments in my future.IMG_20150222_190828571

Carless in L.A. – Yes, We (Mostly) Are

A little over two years ago, the State of California proclaimed our car dead. As in we couldn’t get it smog certified. It wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting for a lot of reasons. Let’s just say it was time.

Not a good time economically, mind you, and that is partly why The Beloved Spouse and I decided not to get another car. The other reason is that we had been talking about walking or using public transportation instead of driving for a good many years, and it occurred to us that having a car made it too easy to drive. I’m not sure if we thought we’d last this long, but we have not owned a car for over two years while living and working in Los Angeles County, and I don’t see us owning one again for a very long time.

What surprises me is how ho-hum most folks are when we tell them we don’t own a car. I don’t know if they’re horrified that we’re living in utter poverty – we’re not. In fact, after giving up the car, our economic situation improved quite nicely. Or perhaps folks are terrified that we’re going to hit them up for rides all the time. We refuse to do that. If we can’t get where we’re going and back under our own steam, as it were, we probably won’t go. Or we’ll rent a car. Or maybe it’s finally hitting home that it’s not all that difficult to live in Los Angeles without a car as you might expect.

I won’t say it’s perfectly easy, but it’s not that hard, either. For one thing, even though we live in the ‘burbs north of Pasadena, we do have two bus lines within easy reach of our house, something I get not everybody has. And we do rent a car if there’s an event at a time or place that would make it hard to catch a bus. But pretty much the rest of the time, we get around by bus and light rail.

The Beloved Spouse has been commuting via bus and light rail ever since he got his job in downtown L.A., which made it a lot easier to live with one car between us. So he’d been set for a while. I mostly work at home, so that helps as well. Still, I don’t think we could have given up the car six or seven years ago. One reason is that L.A.’s public transportation system is getting better, but the big helper is actually technology. Our smart phones pretty much make our lifestyle choice possible. Because I can read, check email, do social media and all that on my phone, wait and travel time is actually productive time for me now. I can keep working and it doesn’t matter if it takes an hour or more to get from home to wherever.

But there are also smart phone apps, particularly Go511, that will tell me when the bus is coming via GPS. Google Maps can plot a route better than the Metro app can because it can take advantage of multiple systems besides Metro, the main L.A. County bus and light rail system. And I can pull down a bus schedule whenever I need one from the mobile Metro site.

Does it take planning? Yes. It’s a lot harder to head out on the spur of the moment or on a lark. And I really have to think about how many groceries I buy because my granny cart has only so much room. Because Metro has such unenlightened views about dogs, we can only take our basset hound Clyde to the dog park on those weekends we’ve rented a car. Getting out and about at night can be a bit tricky because the buses don’t run as often or as reliably after 7 p.m. But there’s a hotel with a taxi stand near our light rail stop and that can fill the gap. And riding the bus when we’re sick or injured is not a lot of fun, although, again, there’s always cab service if something’s really urgent or icky.

On the other hand, we’re always driving relatively new cars because that’s what the rental company has. We do pay for our own insurance, but we don’t worry about car maintenance. That’s the rental company’s problem. And renting rarely costs us more than $200 a month. Let me know where I can buy a car for that kind of payment.

So, yes, you can manage quite nicely not owning a car in L.A. In fact, you might even find it fun. I know we have.

The Sewing Report: Mike’s New Shirt

The wild print. Fun, huh?

The wild print. Fun, huh?

This month’s project was a shirt for Michael (aka The Beloved Spouse). And as I was thinking about how I was going to write it up, I found myself indulging in some introspection on why I sew in the first place. Frankly, buying our clothes is a whole lot less aggravating and probably cheaper, too. And the shirt didn’t turn out like I’d envisioned, which is what generally happens when I make something, so you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Part of the problem is that I have no patience. I hate ripping out seams and will live with stuff I shouldn’t simply because I don’t want to re-do it. I frequently rush through a project either because I need something to wear or, more often, I’m just sick of working on it. So why am I doing this?

I think it’s the creativity. I love matching fabrics to designs, coming up with some new way to do things. Laying out a pattern used to be my least favorite part, now it’s my most favorite. At that point, I haven’t really messed anything up and I can see what my new garment should look like. So the hope is still alive at that point. Plus, there’s always something to learn, even in making a simple bowling/Hawaiian-style shirt, like this last one.

Quick background note – this was Michael’s Valentine’s Day gift – and instead of just making it, I let him weigh in on all the different aspects, choosing the fabric, which also meant choosing the style. I’d found the cotton with the eyeglasses print on it online while looking for something else. We both loved it, so that’s what Michael picked, never mind the six other fabrics I had for him to choose from.

Choosing the wild print meant that this was going to be the simple sport shirt (bowling shirt/Hawaiian-style shirt). It also meant that I was going to have to practice matching the fronts. This is thanks to our friend Mr. L, who gets really picky about pockets and fronts lining up on his Hawaiian shirts. And not that he’d fuss about anything I did, but it’s in my brain now. Have to make the fronts and pocket line up.

Lined everything up here.

Lined everything up here.

Oh, I thought I was being so clever – I cut each front piece out separately, folding back the self-facing so that I could see it matching the other front piece along the pattern line. And since this was going to be a one-day (more or less) project, I took my time while sewing. I only had to rip out one seam – got some nasty tucks while sewing on the collar. I made a point of doing things in all the right ways. The pocket went on straight and the print matched beautifully. The construction was a far more relaxing experience than I’d had in a while, with a minimum of foul language.

Matched it at the wrong line, dummit

Matched it at the wrong line, dummit

Until I tried to line up the fronts to install the buttonholes and buttons. I’d forgotten that the fronts needed to overlap. When I’d cut the fronts out, I matched them at the folded edge of each front, not overlapped as it should have been to account for the buttonholes and buttons. ARGH!!!

Fortunately, the shirt turned out okay. I’ve got something new to try on the next one – which there will be. Once I’m confident there, then there’s the windowpane-checked dress shirt I want to make for Michael. Lessons learned this time out? Remember the overlap on the fronts. Take the time to do things right not only makes a better product, it makes for a more relaxing experience.

Which, if I’m really going whole hog on this introspection thing, are not bad life lessons. Thinking about how things go together makes for a better story. Or dinner. Or cleaner dishes or bathroom. Taking the time to do things right not only makes a better dinner/story/cleaner whatever, it’s more relaxing than trying to rush through just getting things done.

The final product. Looks pretty good and the pocket lines up.

The final product. Looks pretty good and the pocket lines up.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge – Planning Your Valentine’s Dinner

I’m all about getting dinner on the table quickly and without fuss or muss. So you’d think my idea of a nice Valentine’s Day dinner would be to go out, and indeed that is just my idea of a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. However, if I’m going to do something nice for The Beloved Spouse, it won’t be to take him out for dinner. It’s not that he doesn’t like going out to restaurants. He just really likes my cooking, drat him. It’s a case of what Peg Bracken wrote in the “I Hate to Cook Book,” about your basic husband. “He’s not going to want to take you out for enchiladas if he knows he can get good enchiladas at home.”

Note – the above quote was written in 1960 or so, when women were expected to be the primary cooks in the household and going out was a very special occasion. It still holds up no matter the gender or marital status of the primary cook and primary eater in a given household. And, alas for me, the primary eater in my household knows he can get good enchiladas here. It’s become the running joke whenever I make something particularly good, meaning he has one less reason to take me out, which I’d generally rather do. As much as I love good food, cooking it is not my favorite thing to do.

DinnerPlatesWine

A nice romantic dinner of something not fish or steak

But pleasing The Beloved Spouse is a preferred activity and fortunately for me, there are a number of great classic dishes that are insanely easy to do. It makes sense. The best food is all about playing up the basic elements, not smothering them under a host of spices, herbs and other ingredients. Take sole, or fish, meuniere. If you remember the film Julie and Julia, the scene where Merrill Streep as Julia Child is in tears of ecstasy while eating a fish being fried at the table. Sole meuniere is the dish and it takes no time and almost no effort to make.

You take a filet of a white fish – tilapia works great here, or even real sole, you dredge it in flour, salt and pepper, then sauté it over medium high heat in melted butter until the flour is golden brown, then serve right away alongside some steamed vegetables and a salad. You can add a lemon slice if you want to get really fancy, but I don’t. Make your salad before you start the fish, then prep the veggies for the microwave and press the start button about the same time you start cooking the fish. No sauce, no nothing, just a light, tasty fish and a couple tablespoons of butter, which if you consider the rest of the menu, isn’t going to add that much to your waistline. Besides, this is a special occasion dinner.

Or one of my personal faves, steak, salade, frites. Or steak, salad and fries. This is a bistro classic that is wonderfully delicious, even though I generally substitute oven-fries for the classic French fry. You don’t even need sauce, although I do like to chop up the leaves off a couple stems of tarragon and mix it with a generous spoonful or so of mayonnaise while the oven is heating for the potatoes. Crank your oven on to about 475 degrees. Cut a potato – or two if they’re small – into wedges about 1-inch wide. Plop those on a cookie sheet, dribble  just about a large spoonful of oil over it all (not olive because that doesn’t handle the high heat well), shake some salt and pepper over everything, and mix it all up until the potatoes are completely covered with oil. Then spread them out on the pan and put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Make your salad – just lettuce, some radishes, oil and a splash of vinegar with salt and pepper. After 10 minutes are up, turn the potatoes over, then put them back in the oven for around 10 minutes or until they’re cooked through.

Then get good, thin-cut rib-eye or New York steaks – boneless. You can buy a thick-cut one and cut it in half horizontally, but that’s a bit more work. After the potatoes have been turned, take your heaviest fry pan, put it over high heat and let it get hot. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the surface of the pan, and lay in your steaks. Take a deep breath, kiss your sweetie, and turn the steaks, two kisses if you like them more done. Grind some pepper over the cooked side, flip the meat again, then once more and dinner is served. If you didn’t do the tarragon mayonnaise above, you can sprinkle some crumble blue cheese over your steaks. Or not.

Pick a nice chardonnay for your fish or your favorite red for the steaks, light the candles and you’ve got easy-ish romance. Or you can go out to eat.

 

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Media Literacy and The Measles Outbreak

Think media literacy is a snooze as a topic? I know most of you do. Last year, I couldn’t get anyone to nibble, bite or even yawn. But if you know some kid who has the measles right now, a lack of media literacy is probably why that kid got sick.

Why? Because the hysteria over vaccines is being fueled by a lot of bad information based on what people want to believe about certain big bad guys, never mind that the science behind the issue pretty much doesn’t hold up. In short, a lot of folks preferred to believe actress Jenny McCarthy rather than a host of scientists and doctors that has repeatedly pointed out that the measles vaccines save lives, over a million a year, globally, according to the Wikipedia article on measles I read (you do have to scroll down to the photo of the guy who invented the vaccine to find the citation, but it is footnoted).

Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control

Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control

But this isn’t about stats and whether Big-Pharma doesn’t care about our children or whatever. It’s about the damage that can be done when a rumor gets going fueled by bad science and suspicion of large institutions. In this case, parents noted a coincidence – their kids were exhibiting signs of autism shortly after receiving their measles vaccination. It was happening often enough that doctors did, in fact, start investigating.

According to several of the sites I looked at there were two scientists Dr. Mark Geier and his son Davd Geier who did several studies that did show a link between the vaccines and autism. Problem was, and this was repeated over and over in the articles I read, the studies were faulty. They used bad data, didn’t interpret it correctly, in short, it wasn’t good science. Hey, these things happen. But worried, distraught parents began to panic and then an attractive actress gets on a major TV show and, boom, it’s been proven that vaccines cause autism.

Yet, just because something says it’s a scientific study, doesn’t mean it was done all that appropriately, that people didn’t make mistakes, that it was even scientific in the first place. And unfortunately, there is good reason to be at least moderately suspicious when it looks like something is going to benefit the person or institution touting it.

Finally, there is something called confirmation bias that we all fall prey to – we tend to believe news that supports what we already believe or want to believe. For example, if I read a study that “proves” eating donuts will make me skinny, never mind how many pounds I’ve gained eating donuts, I’m going to wave that study like a flag and keep on eating donuts, never mind the tons of evidence that says otherwise.

Parent devastated by a diagnosis of autism want to believe in a bad guy and, hey, Big Pharma – the companies that have already shown a tendency to prefer profit over their customers’ well-being – makes a perfect target. And if the scientific community says there’s a problem with that belief, then it’s because they’re conspiring with the bad guys. It’s all too easy to believe that and decide not to vaccinate your kids. And now we’re dealing with outbreaks of a potentially deadly disease that is entirely preventable.

Fortunately, we haven’t lost any kids. Yet. But with 600 cases reported last year, and over a 100 just this past month, it’s entirely probable we will. About .01 percent probable. That doesn’t have to happen. But it’s going to take a lot more rational adults learning how to interpret the information they get from TV, from blogs, from whatever in a way that appropriately separates the nonsense from the facts. It takes media literacy and 100-plus sick kids is why you should care about it.

I’m participating in a LinkUp/blog hop, with the below fine blogs – please check them out:

http://morselsoflife.com/

http://www.simplelifeofafirewife.com/

http://www.ourtableforseven.com/

http://mycurrentnewsblog.com/

http://www.justanothermom.net/

http://www.beingfibromom.com/

 

The Sewing Report – Not Quite in Stitches

20140830202938257I have always wanted to write about sewing mostly because it has always been one of my passions. I love looking at patterns and fabric and trying to imagine how this style would work with that print or whatever. But I’ve always faced one major obstacle – I’m actually not a very good seamstress. My topstitching is routinely crooked. Corners bulge and facings are in continual rebellion as opposed to laying flat, I don’t care how carefully I understitch and iron.

But inasmuch as my lack of skill has never stopped me from  tackling projects I probably had no business taking on, there’s no reason it should stop me from blogging about it, either. So consider this blog more of a cautionary tale – a lesson in what not to do.

Like me assuming that just because I see a picture, I can recreate the garment. In this case, I saw a jacket in a drawing from Art In Dress (1922) by P. Clement Brown. The version I saw is copyrighted, so I can’t show it here. Also, there’s a nasty racial stereotype in the picture that’s a sad reminder that it wasn’t all that long ago that such images were considered acceptable. We are making progress. Really.

The jacket is a loose, flowing one, with a contrast lining and collar. What makes it especially cool is that the contrast also forms a shawl down the front, and the pocket, also of the contrast fabric, folds back over the shawl and is attached to the front. The skirt in the drawing is shown as your basic plaid walking skirt.

Except that I really didn’t want another skirt. I have tons of them and don’t wear them that often. But I also had this gorgeous white, black and gold plaid somewhat loosely woven with nubby yarns, and a tighter woven black with gold and white horizontal stripes. And I had a lot of the plaid. So I decided to make a skirt, too, and use the mainly black piece as the main body of the jacket. Only I’d have to cut it crosswise because horizontal stripes do not make a Margaret Dumont body look good.20140831095820125

Now, keep in mind, I write a murder mystery series set in the 1920s. So I get the clothing. I just didn’t start collecting patterns and the like until I grew the aforesaid Margaret Dumont body. So the straight lines of the era aren’t just interesting to me from a historical standpoint. They look good on me. Which is why I found another skirt that I liked better than the one in the book. Again – copyrighted drawing and I don’t want to compound the sin because I didn’t buy the pattern. I just drafted one based on what I saw. The skirt has a front flap that forms an oversized pocket, and while I couldn’t see how the original design was put together, it wasn’t too hard to figure out.

Funny thing was, I decided to make a trial version of the above outfit out of some green printed corduroy that I’ve had hanging around for-freaking-ever. Plus I had yards of a lavender mystery blend with embroidered jacquard that was lightweight enough to make a lining. I mean, I’m more or less adapting a basic jacket pattern, I’d better try it out before cutting into the good stuff.

Well, it really wasn’t that hard. I made the skirt front in three pieces – the top, cut long enough to form the pocket; the bottom, which had a button tab along the center and was drafted significantly wider than the top to create the gapping side pockets; and a facing for the bottom that was as wide as the bottom, but long enough to form the pocket bag with the top piece. I gathered that piece onto the front and voila – gapping side pockets!20140831095917559

The jacket was crazy-making, but still straight forward, except for those wrap around pockets. I finally decided to hand-sew those onto the jacket. Big mistake. They tore off almost immediately. Argh. Now I have to re-sew them back on.

The finished product is in the photo below. That’s Bertha, my dressmaker’s dummy. She’s also above in the header image. And I liked the result so much, I did something else with the plaid.

The final result on Bertha

The final result on Bertha

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From The Dark Side of the Fridge – Tacos, Gringo-Style

Please do not look for any recipes here. I don’t generally use them. The point of this little blog is to share process – because you can get dinner on the table a lot faster if you don’t follow recipes. And I’m all about the fast, healthy(ish), cheap and it had better be tasty.

Man, I was exhausted when I got home last Thursday from a day of errands and chasing dollars. The Beloved Spouse wasn’t feeling much perkier, either. A lack of funding and an attempt to eat healthier ruled out dialing for dinner. And the pound of ground beef we had was frozen solid, too. So what to do?

The gringo-style of tacos dorados that my mom served me when I was a kid. Some of my Latina friends serve these with the ground beef fried in the taco shell. We always just sauteed the beef separately and just called them tacos. It actually comes together pretty quickly. The one downside is the clean up factor – it does make a mess.

I popped the frozen block of ground beef into the nuke-o-matic and used the defrost setting for the whole one-pound. I don’t like defrosting my meat all the way this way because you usually get cooked bits and that’s not tasty. But since my microwave defrosts things in stages, I let it go for the first round or so, then started pulling off thawed meat and putting it in the frying pan. I also put the remaining frozen block in the pan and got it all going over medium low heat.

I know, I know – you’re not supposed to cook meat that’s still frozen. It steams it and/or dries it out, depending on who you’re reading. Well, pshaw, pshaw. When dinner needs to get onto the table, I’m not waiting for things to thaw out slowly or in the nuker. I push the thawed bits to one side of the frying pan, center the part of the pan with the frozen meat over the flame and scrape off the browned bits, then flip the frozen piece, breaking it up where I can. And that’s what I did this time, using the times the frozen meat was cooking to chop the bejeebers out of an onion. Note to Self – do up video of how to chop an onion for this blog.

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

Once the meat was mostly thawed and partly browned, I added the onion and about a tablespoon full of ground cumin and a quarter to half teaspoon of cayenne. Second Note to Self – do up video of how to measure into your hand. Got all that stirred up and put on low heat to cook through and stay warm. The Beloved Spouse chopped up some lettuce, pulled the shredded cheese from the freezer, sliced some black olives and dished out some light sour cream. We also usually do up some tomatoes, but this time of year, there aren’t any good ones to be had. These all went into little dishes. See what I meant about the mess?

But that’s only the beginning of the mess. Now, I did use the nuker to thaw my tortillas since these are very handy to buy in bulk and keep in the freezer. Dried them off with a bit of paper towel that I later re-used to drain the oil. We have a small rack that makes draining taco shells really easy – it’s actually a rack you use in small BBQs to hold ribs. I put that on a cookie sheet, paper towels underneath, and get the small fry pan ready with a couple tablespoons of oil. Basically, you want to be able to cover the tortilla. IMG_20150108_185539080

Once the oil is hot, slide the tortilla into the oil, let it soak just a nano-second, then pull it out and flip it. Give it another nano-second or two, then fold one edge over to make a half-moon shape. Flip again, then pull the shell out of the oil and drain on paper, a lint-free towel or a rack. Depending on how many of these you’re doing (we did seven for the two of us), alert everyone that dinner is two to five minutes out and see to it that someone has set the table. Or you can before you start the tortillas. We put about a third of the meat in a bowl, reserving the rest for a taco salad at some later date (boy, will that make that dinner easier), then put spoons in all the fixings so we could stuff our tacos to our respective preferences. Dinner landed on the table in just a little under 30 minutes, and that included time to take the photos.

And then we collapsed. The mess waited.