Thursday, November 12, 2009

The brand new usual

First things first: Captain Adventure is a new man. I have to say, that super-expensive antibiotic does indeed work better in fewer days than I’m used to Augmentin working.

Also, he likes it better…when I add a drop of food coloring to it. I think he hated the taste when his infection was in full-swing, but I noticed his protests yesterday were kind of…not real. Like he was protesting because he thought he should rather than because he really didn’t like the taste. Same thing this morning. So tonight, I added a small drop of red food coloring to it (it’s supposed to be strawberry flavored, but is a white liquid) and guess what?

He loves it. LOVES it! It’s delicious! It’s the best pink medicine ever!

Kids. Go figure.

ANYWAY. Today was my first day at the new job. This whole thing has been a lot like riding a bike after a few years away – full of false starts and “oh yeah, pedals” and “oh…right…don’t squeeze only the front brakes…”

The hardest part for me has been getting used to the concept that I’m going to be away from the Den most weekdays. Yesterday I kept thinking, No problem, I’ll do that tomorrow…oh wait… or Well, Friday I’ll…oh…no, no I won’t…

Before I got started this morning, I had some jitters. It’s been a while since I worked outside the confines of a firm, for one thing – I wasn’t an independent worker, I was a member of a consulting team. The client often didn’t even know my name, let alone my face, my individual skill sets or whether or not I was the one who pulled the rookie move of firing off that SELECT * FROM MASSIVE_TABLE query that locked down the database for six days.

Whoopsie. (Actually, that one wasn’t me…but I did pull one where I had an unhandled error buried deep in a convoluted whack of script that created a lovely never-ending loop because the IF never found its THEN…yeah…that one was fun to troubleshoot…)

ANYWAY. It didn’t take long before I was finding myself thinking, I know this…I really do…

Which was no real surprise because I’ve worked for this client, off and on, for a lot of years.

A lot of years.

Like, 23 of them.

Yeah. You might say we have a certain history, which means that when it comes to data structures, policies, acronyms and such…I have a certain advantage.

Largely because of my history with this client, I’ve also had a tendency to keep an eye on the news pertaining to the entire industry – which means I’m already aware of the merger in question, some of the more (ahem) interesting facets of it, and ways in which “my” company differs from the one they acquired.

So it wasn’t long before I was feeling like I had a pretty good handle on what was going on.

Which felt both weird, and very comfortable. Like I know exactly what we’re talking about but wait! Shouldn’t this be…you know…harder…to understand…?

It’s strange how these things can go. On the one hand, it’s very strange. Dropping the Denizens at the babysitter’s house in the morning…the eerie quiet of the commute, with nobody shrieking from the backseat, no little voices quarreling or singing or telling endless stories.

And there is a jolt that happens around 2:00, when my body-clock suddenly starts screaming, “Time for the first pickup!!”, but I don’t have to jump in the minivan and start charging off from Den to School 1, School 1 to School 2, School 2 back to School 1, then home-again-home-again-lickity-split to beat the bus…

My body doesn’t quite know what to do with the information that I don’t need to, you know…get moving. It got kind of hyper on me, then it got kind of lazy and wanted a nap, and then it said, “You know what would be good? Chocolate. Downstairs. Here. Let me draw you a map, because remember how we worked in this building back in 1999-2000 (different division, different floor, same building), and there was that little chocolate nook? Ya, still there – saw it on the way in…”

The biggest challenge I’m going to face at this gig isn’t going to be the database work. It’s going to be the part where my brain draws little maps from where I am to everything from cheap dim sum to expensive crepes, and then informs me that if I walk “briskly” I could totally hit most of them in a single lunch hour.

It’s a rough life, but somebody’s got to live it.

Then I came home and made dinner. Because nothing says “oh yeah, real life…” like coming home to a swarming horde of Denizens who walk through the door already yapping, “Starving! Starving! Starving! Starving!”

Which they always are, in spite of having eaten two snacks at the sitter’s house in the three hours they spend there after school.

I thought in the interest of keeping myself honest and to avoid a nightly call to the pizza delivery place public education, I’d try to post what I’m throwing together for dinner around here on these working evenings. I don’t guarantee I’ll always make it, because you know what? I’m tired, and it’s getting late, and tomorrow is coming like a speeding locomotive. I suspect I’ll be awfully good about it Monday, with severe faltering by Wednesday and flat-out “can’t…tired…bed now…post later…” by Friday.

But I’ll give it a college try, anyway.

So! Tonight, we had lemon butter baked chicken, mashed potatoes and a bok choy stir fry. The spuds came from the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago (and really needed to be used), but the bok choy came from our own backyard – along with the garlic and lemon juice.

In other news, it’s amazing how “too much” of something like bok choy or spinach ends up being far less impressive after being cooked. I harvested that mini-field of bok choy and thought, Wow, I hope we can use all this before it goes bad… and then tonight it was, Oh…wow…I hope there’s enough for all of us…

Thanks to the Denizens distrust of anything green and leafy, there was plenty.

For me, anyway.

Here’s the recipes…if they can be called recipes, when really this was just me throwing stuff in the general direction of the heating implements and hoping for the best.

Lemon-butter baked chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into eight serving pieces, skins on (just trust me – you can peel them off later if you loathe them)
~1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 small pats butter, smooshed kind of flat
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the chicken pieces skin-up in a 13x9 baking dish. Sprinkle lemon juice evenly over the top, then add salt and pepper to taste. Take the smooshed butter pats and smear them under the skin of the chicken. (I believe the original recipe I’m sort of basing this on had you mixing in the lemon juice with the butter, blah blah blah – this works just fine and takes less time.)

The butter not only adds flavor and tenderness, but buys you a free pass. Technically, you “should” baste every ten minutes with the pan juices, but, uh, well. Distractions happen, and the butter will help prevent this from becoming a tragedy.

Put in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until you’ve got cooked chicken – the breasts will tend to cook faster than the legs and thighs, so be ready to pull the breasts out and keep them warm while those thicker pieces finish up.

Mashed Potatoes

Super basic recipe here.

6 medium potatoes
1-3 cloves garlic (if you like)
Pot of water
1/4 cup butter /margarine
1/4 cup milk (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a pot large enough to hold all your potatoes with water and set it over high heat to start heating. Peel and quarter the potatoes (unless they’re huge, in which case, uh, six-tize them – the goal is even-sized pieces that will cook relatively quickly), and drop them on into the heating water. I haven’t found any significant difference in quality between waiting patiently for the water to be all-the-way boiling or dropping them in while you can still do it with your bare hand, so in the interest of saving time I just heave ‘em in as soon as they’re cut. If you want garlic, go ahead and put it on in there as well.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and ignore for fifteen to twenty minutes. When you jab one with a fork and it breaks apart without a fight, they’re ready. Drain, remove the garlic if you prefer a “hint” rather than a “strong presence” of garlic, add the butter and milk, and mash away – with a potato masher or with your electric mixer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gingery Bok Choy

~ 1 tablespoon oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger, or 1/8 teaspoon dried powdered ginger
4 cups washed bok choy, coarsely chopped
~ 1/4 cup water

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until mellow and golden brown. Add the ginger and heat until fragrant, then raise the heat, add the bok choy and the water. There will be a burst of steam, and the bok choy will almost instantly go from 4 HUGE cups to “ohmygawd…is that enough for four people?!”

There is a technicality with bok choy you might want to observe: The white cores take a little longer to cook than the leafy green parts. Some people discard the white parts, which is a crying shame – I think it’s better to simply separate them when chopping, and sauté the white parts with the garlic. That also mellows the “extra” bitterness that can sometimes make an appearance in that part of the bok choy, especially if it’s fully mature like mine was tonight. (I couldn’t bear to harvest them for a while…they were just so cute…)

The total time to get this from fridge to plate was about 40 minutes.

But wait…one more thing…

After I’d cut the chicken into serving pieces, I put the carcass (still pretty heavily loaded with meat) into the crock pot along with an onion, more garlic, some dilapidated celery and a carrot from the bottom of the crisper, added water to cover, and set it on ‘low’ to start making some stock; I’ll also be reclaiming the meat from those bones, adding it to the leftover meat from dinner tonight and using it for tomorrow’s dinner.

Which I’ll tell you about tomorrow, if I can stay awake long enough.

Try to contain your excitement…


PipneyJane said...

I'm glad the new job started well. Is this the place where you used to knit on the terrace overlooking Main Street?

- Pam

Lydee said...

you are an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you are absolutely the right person for the job.

Who knew that making money would be good for your mental health...both as a stress-reliever and a break from the denzians.

Best wishes!

RobinH said...

Good news! Glad to hear it's going well.

A trick I learned from my husband- for even faster mashed potatoes, just remove the eyes, chunk them and cook them with the skins on. Actually, I've given up peeling a lot of stuff. Carrots (only if they're really cruddy on the skins), apples (dice 'em a little smaller and I don't mind the peels in pies and crisps). Saves time, avoids wasting the peels, more nutritious! And I was amazed at how little difference it made to the taste- for most stuff, I actually like it better with peels in.

Ms. Packrat said...

This wouldn't possibly be BOA in their takeover of Countrywide, would it?