December 2, 2016

Finally Friday: shrimp and (cheesy) grits

It’s almost embarrassing to admit this but I buy my shrimp from Safeway. My Asian card just caught flame. But there’s a good reason, I swear! One, the nearest Asian market is 99 Ranch and that parking lot is, if possible, as terrible to navigate as any parking lot in Rowland Heights back in Southern California. I’d rather walk to the store. Except it’s ten miles away so that’s not happening either. Two, their shrimp are deveined! This was revelatory.

I can devein shrimp, I’m good at it. Or rather my 13-year-old, pre-fibromyalgia hands were great at it. Now? Hah! I save my fine motor control for things like not slicing off more than just the tip of my finger. That’s not hyperbole, by the way, I did slice off the tip of my index finger two weeks ago. It got better.

Anyway, shrimp from Safeway, saving fingertips, and even more importantly, time across America!

(If you don’t know why I’m mocking myself, it’s because I’m probably the only person in my family who buys their seafood from a not Asian market. Growing up in Southern California nearish to LA meant that Asian markets abounded and growing up in a traditional immigrant family meant we never cooked anything but our home country cuisines. And no non-Asian market carried Asian food fixings beyond soy sauce, so we always always always went to an Asian market. And stopped by for a passel of banh mi on the way home.

My shrimp were destined for a decidedly non-Asian ending though, because I adore this dish!

I keep this one super simple, just as it was intended.


1 cup polenta (grits)
3 cups water
Swish of salt
Half a small onion, halved again and sliced
Several cloves of garlic
1/2 pound of shrimp, deveined, shelled

Doing it right

Boil 3 cups of water, swish your salt in, and when it’s boiling, stir in the cup of polenta. Let it boil at medium to low heat, stirring every 20-40 seconds to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pot. This is something I forget every other time I make it and end up scraping regret off the pot. Actually no, I cheat and boil water with some baking soda which lifts off almost all burnt-on guck. So don’t burn your grits.

Mince your garlic and slice the onion while the grits are cooking, unless you’re smart and/or had a sous chef do this already. I shooed my sous chef away to chase JuggerBaby around so I had to do the dirty work. Toss garlic and onions into a hot pan and let them cook for a few minutes. You could also toss in your tomatoes now, if you’d diced any. I always err on the side of cooking a little longer at this stage because I don’t want raw onions or overcooked shrimp when I realize I’m going to have raw onions. Because the next step is tossing on the shrimp and on medium heat shrimp cooks through really fast. I hate overcooked shrimp, it’s rubbery and awful. As soon as your shrimp are starting to curl up and the split deveined side turns outward, it’s nearly done. Usually it goes from translucent to solid white too but some don’t, and you don’t want to overcook it seeking that solid white. A few minutes will do the trick.

In the meantime, your grits. Once the pot is hot and smooth when you’re stirring, it’s just about done. If you want (and I usually do), throw in your cheese at this point, stir it well so none is sitting on top and turn off the heat. It’ll thicken in no time. (Actual time: one to two minutes)

To serve: a generous dollop of your cheesy grits on a plate, with a little hollow for your grilled onions and shrimp on top.

I added a handful of too-crispy, slightly burnt kale chips to our plates for our brown-greens. Still edible but those should have come out if the oven a few minutes earlier.

Total time to serve: 45 minutes, and only that long because I was poky and inefficient. Normally I’d have gotten it served in 25-30 minutes. 

November 11, 2016

Finally Friday: a fish fillet dinner

My absolute favorite fish dinner is a whole oven roasted fish, with the skin on, crispy on the outside, moist and flaky inside, flavored with a homemade tamarind sauce, served on a bed of lettuce with a side of cucumber, rolled in rice paper wraps, and dipped in a lemon fish sauce. We would have that at home and it was culinary heaven.

That is not this recipe. Sorry.

Someday it will be. But I tried making it once without a recipe or guidance ten years ago, it was a horrid failure, and I haven’t had the nerve to waste another fish trying it again.

This is a suitable substitute, JuggerBaby approved.


2-4 fish fillets, I like tilapia or catfish
oil, salt, pepper

Baby bok choy
Sesame oil
Diced garlic

Steamed white rice


I usually steam the white rice first, earlier in the day, since we use a rice cooker and that’s just an easy win. If you need help making perfect white rice, let me know in the comments and I’ll do a little snippet on that later.

The fish and bok choy are ridiculously easy – the fish fillets are placed on a large sheet of foil, sprinkled with oil, salt, pepper, layered with sliced onions (sometimes tomatoes or lemons if I feel like it), and the foil is pinched shut like a little packet. This goes into the toaster oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. It’s my cheater version of Fish en Papillote.

Meanwhile, the bok choy is washed and cut up into smallish pieces. This is tossed into the saucepan after cooking the garlic for a minute, tossed to coat the bok choy with a bit of oil and garlic, and covered for a few minutes on medium-low heat. I add a little drizzle of sesame oil and toss again, then leave it on medium-low heat for a few more minutes. Since JuggerBaby seems to think that ze can’t chew up vegetables that aren’t a bit on the soft side, crunchy like I prefer them, I cook it a little longer than if I were just serving it to adults. Cooked this way, ze will happily munch on bok choy all through dinner.

Total time from prep to serving: 35 minutes.

October 28, 2016

Finally Friday: shepherd’s pie

I love food, and I love cooking for my family now so by somewhat popular vote, I’m sharing some of our family-approved meals here with you, on Fridays.

How I generally try to cook: 3-5 ingredients per dish; use fresh ingredients if possible; time from prep to table goal is 1 hour or less. I aim to serve a starch, veggies, and some protein. Sometimes dessert if I’m feeling incredibly motivated but that’s pretty rare.

It’s cool weather again so I’ve hauled out the Le Crueset for a stovetop to oven dinner. I’ve never made a classic shepherd’s pie, so don’t be surprised if this all looks a bit weird to you. The important thing is that the family will happily eat it.

Our little Le Crueset is one of my favorite kitchen staples. I wouldn’t have splurged on it but it was affordable some years back with a combination of coupons, gift cards, and not being picky about colors. Cherry seems to be the current unpopular color, and therefore cheaper, right now but I can never tell why certain colors are more or less popular than others. I can’t imagine picking white cookware, though, not the way I cook. I don’t need my cookware to advertise my cooking mishaps, thank you very much.

1 lb of ground turkey
2 diced zucchini
1/2 diced tomato
1/2 cup frozen sweet corn
1/4 cup frozen shelled edamame
1 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tbsp garlic salt
2 potatoes and 2 cups of beef broth to make mashed potatoes topping

I started the mashed potatoes in a medium pot first. I boil my diced potatoes in broth for extra flavor so I can skip the butter and milk or cream. Nothing against them but I prefer to save those fat calories for something really delicious, like butter filled pastries. Mmmm…..

While that was bubbling away, I start to saute the ground turkey with the spices, experimenting with not using black pepper to see how that changes the flavor, over medium heat in the Le Crueset. While that’s cooking, I cut up my vegetables, deciding against adding carrots and onions because that’s ten more minutes of sous chefing on my feet. Once they’re ready, in go the vegetables, including the frozen ones, and everything is cooked through in about ten more minutes.

The heat gets shut off while the potatoes finish cooking through, and I wash all the dishes that were waiting in my spare five minutes. That done, the potatoes are ready to be smashed with a wooden spoon, added to the Le Crueset, and topped with a sprinkling of cheese. Ten minutes at 350 degrees in the oven finishes it off while I prep some broccoli to steam on the side – if JuggerBaby rejects some of the shepherd’s pie veggies, ze will nom on the steamed broccoli. If ze doesn’t, then the broccoli goes into zir lunch for tomorrow.

Total time from prep to serving: 1 hour.

:: What’s your favorite filling combination for a shepherd’s pie?

June 3, 2016

Finally Friday #6

Finally Friday 6: How do you make time for yourself?Theme: Adult time, me time

We’ve got a lovely neighbor who is genuinely happy to take JuggerBaby for 10-20 minutes if we need, probably longer if we asked, in the evenings. We’ve exchanged kids a few times now, her family is great with JuggerBaby and ze is totally into hanging out with them. Ze isn’t in the least bit shy of running up and demanding a snack. (The well trained kid in me groans at this imposition. But we are happy to feed their little guy when he asks for a snack so fair’s fair?) Their little guy is much older but he loves the company of anyone at any age, so he’s hung out with us a few times too, sans parents, and he’s hugely entertaining when he’s not running around in circles.

It’d be the perfect arrangement but alas, they’re only here for a little while. It’s hard to find people we consider a good fit: trustworthy, patient and firm, very reasonable, willing to tell a child “no”, and just easy to get along with. We’ll stay in touch, I’m sure, but they won’t be just on the same block anymore and sometimes, we just need a hand from someone who can be there without a long commute or scheduling two weeks in advance.

I mentioned earlier that we found babysitters – yaaayy! But they are only available the occasional Saturday and run at least $25/hour – OUCH.

We’d originally imagined babysitting to be the solution of buying ourselves some free time, some guilt free time, where we happily paid someone to help out with JuggerBaby for an hour or two to do something for ourselves or just get some work done. It’s tough when we’re both timing almost everything on the weekend for hir naps. It’s even tougher staring down the barrel of hir phasing out the second nap. (Say it ain’t so!)

We work at making sure PiC gets his gym time, that’s as important to his mental health as my quiet no-people time is to mine. Thus far, I’ve gotten by with thinking of daycare days as double duty days: It’s when I get my quiet me-time, and I get all my work done.

Once in a while I think wistfully of a time when I wasn’t on the dog or the baby’s schedule. Mostly, I think I’m as rested as I can be given health issues, and as fulfilled on a personal level as I need to be, right now, but eventually I’d like a little bit more. Nothing scheduled, I hate the commitment of taking weekly classes. Just the odd hour once or twice a month where I am solely committed to just doing whatever I want.

I don’t want to say that it’s entirely down to JuggerBaby that we don’t get our time, in that blamey kind of way, because I don’t resent it. The reality is we chose to have a human puppy. That’s fine, it brings a whole load of work and compensates with fun and laughter and snot and drool.  It’s relatively even. But ze just happens to be the reason this period carries extra scheduling challenges.

I know this is a problem everyone has to some extent with their families, friends, work, and all their other obligations.

:: Do you get enough time to yourself? How do you carve out time for yourself? Do you prioritize alone time and social time? 

May 27, 2016

Finally Friday #5

Finally Friday #5: the $100 dinner, puppy doctoring, hunting down a diagnosis

Mood: resigned

  • We had a lovely dinner earlier this week, our treat, with an old friend who is passing through SF. They are so seldom in CA we were lucky they could fit us in their hectic stay but it was so good to see them all. Unfortunately the only place that could accommodate our party wasn’t particularly reasonably priced. On the other hand, at those prices, service was quite good and the location was perfect for everyone to relax for an hour or so.
  • I didn’t get to fully enjoy the visit because I’m still in thrall to the evil that lurks in my respiratory system. It keeps getting worse and by this point, I’m not entirely sure how I’m still sitting up in defiance of the laws of physics and good sense.
  • My doctors have a plan of diagnosis but so far we’re striking out. There must be an answer to what’s plaguing me, they think they’ll find it, but a somewhat skeptical side of me wonders if it’ll just come up as something else that’s not curable. Because that’s what we were really missing at this party!
  • Poor Seamus is also on the medical merry-go-round. I’m treating a few more problem spots and his vet and I have an agreement about how we’ll take things since his problems are chronic too. We’re calling them allergies for lack of a better diagnosis but in general the poor guy is just made miserable by whatever’s going on with him.
  • I’m awful tired.

:: Has cold & flu season gotten any of you? How are you keeping well? Do you have Memorial Day plans? 

May 20, 2016

Finally Friday #4

Finally Friday #4: Starwood AmEx, blackout shades, Amazon refunds Mood: Inspired

  • We put everything on our SPG card for the Starwood points that earns. And yet knowing this, I’m still surprised when I review our credit card charges mid-month and see a $1000 total, think “oh, only $1000.” ONLY?  Well, yes. Food, utilities, baby supplies, household supplies, car maintenance, gas, medical stuff, dog food and medications, everything goes on that card. “Only” $1000 is pretty good. My reality is so weird now.
  • Come to think of it, I don’t know why AmEx is so nice to me. They only make $95 per year from me and I net at least 3-5x that amount in hotel room reward redemptions annually.
  • I notice that Amazon has changed their return process so that they have two options: refund to original payment method, or Amazon gift card. They don’t tell you what the original payment method was, and it defaults to Amazon gift card. I’m sure they were counting on this: I was in a hurry processing my last return and assumed it was paid for by a gift card to begin with so I zoomed right through that screen. Pay more attention than I did, especially if you’re returning big ticket items. You want that money back in your pocket!
  • Blackout blinds! Does anyone have them? We’ve been thinking about them for a while and I’m not ready to commit yet. I’d love to know if you’ve had any experience with them or recommendations.
  • PiC said to me this week, after some family time: I don’t want to leave (the family) and go to work. I would rather stay home and raise the JuggerLB, so I fully support any plans for early retirement. Music to my ears! Of course, I conduct our finances as though he was fully on board with quitting his job in ten years anyway, it’s just nice to have his enthusiasm about the prospect. And I like that after family time he wants more family time, not to just get away from us like some people.
  • As usual, when the whole family came down with some sort of viral junk, JuggerBaby recovered in about 4 hours and the rest of us geezers were laid out flat. Baby germs are the worst!

:: How did you fare this week?

May 13, 2016

Finally Friday #3

Finally Friday #3: celebrating our refinance and taking a break Mood: winding down

  • The refi was completed last week and I’m still basking in the feeling of completion. FIVE MONTHS of work, finalized!
  • I impulse bought a lovely purse at a boutique shop. Not a thing I normally do, but once in a while you spot something that fits your needs perfectly. All week I’d been squishing everything into an old wristlet that JuggerBaby has been using as a chew toy / teething ring, and idly thinking that I ought to keep an eye out for something more functional.This thought usually leads to nowhere but while running an errand with a friend, I spotted just the ticket: larger but not too big (too big is relative – I love “too big” normally because I like the possibility of carrying EVERYTHING I need), wristlet and cross body options, soft sturdy material, a good variety of pockets with safe places for my keys, pens, cards and even sunglasses. So pleased with it, I don’t even harbor guilt for buying it on the spot instead of deliberating for 4 years as usual.
  • I finally understand what my fair skinned friends experienced in the harsh Southern California summers of yore. Instead of turning my usual peasant brown after a couple hours outdoors without sunblock (an accident!) I’m now peeling and feeling like I’m shedding my skin. I’m too old for these new, gross, experiences!Maybe instead of complaining I should be grateful it only took 5 days to hit the peel stage?
  • My soul thrills for Hamilton’s Tony nominations. Loved this article on Leslie Odom, Jr. and will hope with everything in me that he renews his contract and comes to play in San Francisco and we get to go see him.
  • We took a few days just for family time and I’m physically best but my soul feels rested. I had forgotten what that felt like.
  • Samantha Cristoforetti, I doff my cap to thee. She wore the first Star Trek uniform into space!

How was your week? When’s the last time you were sunburned?

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