Sunday, November 07, 2010

Queen of the Road

Warning: This post may resemble a Sunday drive; meandering on with no set destination.

Back when I was young, most of my friends had the urge to learn to drive long before I did. Once it finally occurred to me that driving represented getting the hell out of the house freedom, I got on board with everyone else.

This was back in the stone age eighties when driver's ed was taught in high school. I also remember taking a summer class in some portable trailers where we watched a computer screen and steered a wheel to simulate real driving. Most likely the instructor for that class went home and prayed when he realized he was going to be in a car with me behind the wheel.

I passed the written exam at the DMV with no problem. Then I received my learner's permit. Then came the best part. My mother had the "pleasure" of teaching me to drive. With my apologies to my mother, I can't think of anyone less suited to the job title of driving instructor. I scared the crap out of her and she couldn't hide it. She made me nervous as hell and I couldn't hide it. It would be time to turn and I would hear "GO, wait STOP, now GO, EEEEEEEK STOP!" She also hit the invisible brake a lot. (I knew when it was time to teach my daughter to drive, I would be the same way so I handed the driving instructor reins over to my husband.)

I was the typical teen driver, maybe even worse. I backed over the mailbox once. To this day, I hate backing up. Yes Virginia, depth perception does exist. Unfortunately it was handed over to the boys.

It took three tries to pass my driving test. My "friend" L laughed at me behind my back. Never mind that it had taken her three times to pass the written test. Finally, I passed the driving test. The instructor told me I had barely passed. I'm sure I was thinking, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just hand over the license and get the hell out of my way!" Did I mention yet what a charming teen I was?

Of course true independence didn't come yet. I didn't own a car so I still had to have my mother drop me off at school or, even worse, ride the bus.

Some of my friends had cars and they would very occasionally drive ten miles out of their way to pick me up. Those were the days when every seat was packed with a kid and we could all pitch in a buck or two for gas money and get the tank filled.

I borrowed my mother's Toyota Corolla on weekends. It was a little box car with no power steering, definitely not a "cool" car. There was a bumper sticker on the back stating, "I brake for bingo." Lord, how I despised that bumper sticker instead of actually being GRATEFUL for the fact she was letting me use her car.

My friends and I would cruise on Olive Ave in Porterville, CA, which was actually kind of boring but we were happy to be hanging out. We never found as much trouble as we were looking for which was a good thing. Because I did have a habit of finding plenty of trouble.

I finally purchased a used Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme toward the end of my senior year. It was a granny car but I didn't care. I had wheels. I'm sure my mother was alternately glad to get her car back and scared to think I was going to be loose on the roads.

I drove way too fast but somehow lucked out and never got in an accident. For all I know there was a string of them behind me in the rear view mirror. I was overly confident and didn't realize what a horribly scary driver I was.

At some point in life, driving became a way to get from point A to point B. I no longer enjoy driving. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

Were people always so rude and I never noticed? Or was I too busy being rude myself? That is a distinct possibility.

I see people tailgating all the time. I have seen a person tailgating a school bus. I have seen a person tailgating a man on a motorcycle. People pull out to cut you off and then drive slow. People park in the way when dropping off the kids at school. People drive five miles below the speed limit in the left lane. People swerve back and forth happily talking on their cell phones. Gah, it's enough to make me go mad. And damn I sound like an old lady!

And please don't think I'm saying I'm a perfect driver. I'm not. I do attempt to be as courteous as possible, but I do make mistakes, and I do get really, really irritated with people sometimes and scream in the privacy of my car.

Maybe karma is coming back to bit me in the butt.

How I wish I had a chauffeur to take me everywhere so I could sit in the back and read. Wouldn't that be the life?

It will be six more years before we have another kid in need of driver's training. That seems pretty far away but I know how fast time can go. All I can say is, her Dad is teaching her to drive.

Please feel free to share your driving memories. I would love to hear them.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Final Choice

I mentioned in my prior post the fact that I had the chance to review "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" and I promised to share the recipe I chose.

It wasn't easy to choose just one recipe. There was a cracker recipe I was interested in. I am beyond tired of paying almost six dollars for a four-ounce package of gluten-free crackers.

The cracker recipe contains cornmeal for sprinkling on the pan. Shauna mentioned that not all cornmeal is gluten-free due to manufacturing practices. I immediately checked my bag of cornmeal and read the dreaded words "contains flour." Ugh. I've been cooking with that cornmeal for a while now. While I will probably cook the crackers next, they were not the recipe I chose.

I then eyeballed the recipe for millet tabouleh. My husband loves tabouleh. I made it for him once about twelve years ago, but it didn't come out right. So I was eager to try Shauna's recipe. But I didn't pick that one either.

The recipe I finally tried was pork paprika. My reason for choosing this dish was I wanted to cook something the whole family could enjoy. The recipe itself was for veal paprika but the directions said it was okay to use pork. Pork butt was on sale for ninety-seven cents a pound that week. I only had to buy fourteen pounds to get that deal! Have I mentioned how grateful I am for my freezer?

The recipe called for pork, kosher salt, pepper, EVOO, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, smoked or sweet paprika, Piment d'Espelette (optional), dry white wine, chicken or veal stock, mushrooms, sour cream and chives (optional).

Shauna recommended making your own stock. I haven't done this in a while because I have been sacrificing flavor for convenience. Homemade stock really is better. I usually use carrots, chicken, onion and salt in my broth. If I have celery I add it also. But I added fresh rosemary from my friend Lhia's garden this time. It added a complex and delicious flavor my stock had never had before. It was the best stock I had ever made.

My prior rosemary experience was not good. A friend had made mashed potatoes with rosemary in them and they were disgusting. So I had sworn off rosemary, assuming it was a vile spice. However, rosemary was mentioned a lot in this cookbook so I decided to give it one more try. I'm so grateful I did. Rosemary rocks as long as it isn't in potatoes! Thank you, Lhia!

I had a few missteps with the recipe. The first misstep was when I made my stock. I used my soup pot to make it. It cooked for two hours and I was left with two cups of stock. I needed a quart. So I started another batch and made two more cups.

However, my daughter was coming down with a cold and I thought some chicken stock would be just the thing. She loved it, but then I needed more stock. Finally the light bulb in my brain came on and I hauled the STOCK POT out of the dusty cupboard it had been relegated to. Amazing thing, that stock pot.

After I had my stock, I could start my recipe. Hooray!

I seasoned and seared the meat and removed it from the pan. I sauteed my vegetables, except for the mushrooms and green onions. Then I added the paprika. I used sweet paprika, not smoked, and I left out the Piment d'Espelette.

Then I poured in the wine, scraped the yummy goodness from the bottom of the pan and cooked until the wine was reduced by half.

Next the stock went in the pan. I heated it to a boil and added my meat. Then I simmered the stew until the meat was fork-tender, about two hours.

But it wasn't done yet. After the meat was tender, I threw out the vegetables and set the meat and liquid aside. Then I sauteed the mushrooms, more carrot, onion and garlic for about ten minutes, added the liquid back to the pot and brought it back to a boil. I was supposed to simmer it for another fifteen minutes to reduce it more, but I had been smelling the stock all day and I was too impatient to wait anymore! I know, it was only fifteen more minutes, but I was HUNGRY from those good smells all day.

Rather than whisking in the (tofutti) sour cream, we each put an individual dollop in our bowls with chopped chives sprinkled on top. We served it over mashed potatoes.

The pork paprika was delicious, easily one of the best meals I have ever cooked. My husband commented on the fact he could taste how it had cooked all day, melding all the flavors together. I am excited to see if all the recipes taste this good. I will absolutely be making this dish again and I promise to let it finish the last fifteen minutes of cooking even if my husband has to restrain me with duct tape.

I recommend this cookbook if you are a foodie, gluten-free or not. If you had a dinner party, these are the recipes that would wow your friends. The only problem with a dinner party would be having to share. Thanks for reading!