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I love my mother-in-law.

That’s not a lead-in. It’s really true. But this week, I love her for giving me this recipe. Apparently it’s one of my husband’s all-time favorites, a fact of which I was unaware until just a few weeks ago. Anyway, tonight I had everything on hand to fix it, and while it works its magic in the oven, I have a few free minutes to share it with you. It’s yummy, and best of all, it’s not an exact science.

So, here’s the recipe for Chicken Divan. I’m not sure how it got its name, though my theory is that you’ll need a divan handy when you faint after tasting it. And if you’re thinking, oh, woe betide me, I hate broccoli, feel free to substitute spinach. Just make sure that whatever you use, it’s as free of moisture as possible before you add it to the pan. Oh, yeah, it’s easy, too. 😉

You’ll need:

6 oz. shredded longhorn, Colby, or Cheddar cheese
6 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 bunch of broccoli or 1 small bag frozen broccoli, cooked, drained, and patted dry
1 tsp. curry powder (I use a very generous teaspooon)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup mayo
2 cans cream of mushroom soup

Layer chicken and broccoli in a casserole dish or 9 x 13 pan. Whisk together mayo, curry powder, soup, and lemon juice. Pour over broccoli and chicken and mix it all up a bit. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. Serve over rice. Enjoy. Bask in the glowing praise you receive. And give me, and my mother-in-law, our props.

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So the latest development is that my boy likes to bite his toenails.

Yes. You read it right. He bites his toenails. He also bites his fingernails, but anyone can do that. Apparently biting one’s toenails takes some talent, especially when you’re missing some front teeth.

I have no idea why he’s taken up this habit, but I find him on the couch pretty frequently, transfixed by SpongeBob or Avatar or Tom and Jerry, crunching away on his toenails. So the upside is that he’s flexible and has nice strong teeth. The downside is that he bites his toenails!

I just picture this being a relationship deal-breaker somewhere down the road. Girlfriend comes over, uses her key, sees him biting his toenails, and calls the whole thing off. Crushed and embittered, he moves into my basement and codependence begins. Noooo!

Anyway, I’m trying to be smart about it. I don’t want to make a big deal of it. Every now and again, I casually mention that I’ll be happy to cut his toenails if he feels they need it. No. He’s fine. Do I let it go with the hope that it will stop on its own? Time will tell….

So.

A few months ago my husband revealed to me that he doesn’t like taco seasoning, and why. Apparently some years ago, after spending a day with a friend of a friend who apparently doesn’t shower often enough, I remarked that this person smelled like taco seasoning. And he did. He was very fragrant and, umm, cumin-y.

Okay, fine. I don’t need taco seasoning. I can mix up my own little spice blend, without so much salt, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Heaven knows we don’t want to subject anyone to unwashed-hippie tacos.

But today, he broke the news that, in fact, he doesn’t really like tacos at all.

What. The. Hell? Who doesn’t like tacos? How in the world can a person look at a taco and say, hey, I don’t find that at all appealing?

It’s crunchy, it has meat, there’s cheese, there’s refreshing sour cream. There’s hot sauce. What in the world is wrong with him? The boy and I love tacos. I could easily eat them once every couple of weeks. Plus, as anyone who is the sole cook in her house knows, tacos are an easy trick to have in your bag of dinners.

So we now can add tacos to the lengthy list of things he finds unpalatable. These include onions, peppers of any kind, tomatoes, cucumbers, too much corn in any recipe containing corn, lima beans, tomato soup, green beans that aren’t canned, enchiladas (including a casserole recipe that I have tweaked until it is adored by everyone who tries it…except him), romaine lettuce, asparagus (unless covered in hollandaise sauce), and a slew of other things I probably don’t know about. And now, tacos.

Asshat.

I will freely admit that I sometimes don’t think things through as thoroughly as I should. But this isn’t entirely my fault.

Last Friday I found frozen turkeys on a mad sale at the grocery store. If you’re not in the know, 59 cents a pound for a turkey is a good damn deal. So I bought a turkey and brought it home and put it in the fridge to defrost.

And defrost, and defrost.

This morning I pulled it out, since today was really the only day this week I had time to fix a turkey and its accouterments for dinner. And when I say “time,” I mean “I had to cook this turkey today before it went bad and I felt guilty about wasting an entire turkey.” Anyway, it was still largely frozen.

This leads to an important question. What the hell is happening in the world of turkey processing that makes a turkey remain frozen nearly a week after it leaves the freezer? I ask you. It’s unsettling.

Vegetarians, just stop reading now. I beg you.

Anyway, I sliced open the wrapper, held the turkey by the wings, and, in a delicate little dance, balanced its legs in the plastic bag-lined drain of my sink so that I could steady it as I washed off the ice. Good to go, right? Oh, fudge. The giblets. The everloving giblets. Seriously. Sweet Jesus, the giblets.

I would love to meet the person who said, hey, let’s boil this bird’s internal organs until they have all the appeal of disemboweled intestines and then chop them up for human consumption. I would ask them what in the world they were thinking. I also would happily pay more for a giblet-free turkey. But that’s beside the point. The point is, the giblet bag was trapped inside the bird, frozen to the sides. I managed to pry it loose, cringing all the while lest my finger puncture the bag and I find myself knuckle-deep in a tangle of gizzard and heart (because, while the bag was frozen to the turkey, the giblets were, oddly enough, defrosted and quite squishy). I then realized that I still had to pull out the neck. And the neck was…you guessed it…frozen to the inside of the turkey. After a week of defrosting in the fridge.

So there I am, elbow-deep in a still-semi-frozen turkey, tugging at the slimy and recalcitrant neck, trying to keep the four-year-old from hearing the profanity, when it hits me how ridiculous this whole situation is. Why the hell didn’t I just buy some chicken breasts? I can cook, I can bake, I can write and edit and proofread, and I can fold laundry…I have nothing to prove by cooking a turkey on a Thursday in the wee days of October. Anyway, the neck finally came free and went into the trash. With the giblets.

I don’t know what my issue is, but I seriously underestimated how long it would take to cook this thing. We didn’t have dinner until 8 tonight, and as I was carving the turkey, I began to wonder if it was done. It was, I know it was, but I felt the need to put it back in the oven for a while. Dry turkey beats a salmonella-laden turkey, any day of the week. And as I was trying to juggle the turkey, along with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, etc., etc., etc., the boy was begging for attention, I was hot, I was in a rotten mood, and I was yelling a little too much. And the mixer went belly-up in the middle of mashing the potatoes.

Oh, and my husband was “taking a shower,” which I have learned is a euphemism for “nice relaxing nap.”

So, blah, blah, blah, I now have something like 10 pounds of dry leftover turkey in the fridge, I’m kind of miserable, and I realize that I should have chucked the turkey, ordered a pizza, and had a much more enjoyable night. Lesson learned.

This is why I don’t host Thanksgiving at my house, ever.

Gobble, gobble.

Or maybe it’s methadone. Yes. I believe I have just uncovered the methadone of the food world. Want to know what it is? You know you do.

It’s frozen meatballs. You heard it here, folks. Frozen meatballs.

He hasn’t shown any obvious signs of it, but my boy has been under the weather with strep throat (and staph, wherever the hell that came from) these past two weeks. We didn’t find out until Monday, but he must have had it last week, too, because that’s when they did the throat culture. Anyway, perhaps as a way to atone for being slightly annoyed by the whining, I tend to give him whatever he wants when he’s been sick. So when I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and he said with tremendous sincerity that he wanted spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti and meatballs it was…or is.

Generally, with the exception of Trader Joe’s orange chicken–because that is stuff you would sell your own mother into prostitution for–I like to make at least the centerpiece of my dinners from scratch. I’ll season my own chicken and patty my own burgers, thanks. Most of the time I chop up my own ingredients to make salad, because while the stuff in the bag is convenient, it tastes like chemicals to me. And I usually make my own meatballs.

The problem with meatballs, though, is that I didn’t have a nice Italian grandma to teach me how to do it. My grandmother was German. She baked, as a general rule. So while I can make a decent meatball, it irks me that you can’t taste them while you’re mixing them to ensure they taste good. Because that would give me salmonella. So it takes me a while…and sometimes they’re great, and other times…not so much.

Anyway, I decided that I didn’t want to fool with mixing and dirtying bowls and using excessive profanity because the parsley fell out of the spice cabinet and into the spaghetti sauce again. So I bought a big bag of cooked frozen meatballs. You add them to your sauce of choice, heat it all up, and have time to blog while it’s melding its beefy, tomatoey goodness.

Holy mother. They were really good. They didn’t have that crusty surface that my meatballs tend to have (because I pan fry them instead of cooking them in the sauce). They were spiced well. They’re obviously not as good as meatballs made by someone who knows what she’s doing, but they were a good substitute. I’m sure anyone who actually did learn to make meatballs at her Italian grandmother’s knee is curling her lip at me, but give me a break. You ship me some meatballs, and I’ll ship you a kuchen. Capische?

You know, you’d be hard pressed to find a guy cooler than my husband. He’s unassuming, he’s brilliant, he’s funny, and he has the most beautiful eyes and gentle soul you could ever hope to see every day in another person. You also probably don’t know anyone with such a diverse aesthetic, or such a huge music collection. He has phenomenal insight, he’s a great dad, he’s a good guy. You’d be lucky to have him. Really, really lucky.

But he’s a dork.

He will freely admit this. He is, however, an old-school dork. No e-mailing or texting for him. Instead, he’s an audiophile, a sci-fi geek, a fantasy game kind of guy. And the fantasy game of the past three years has been World of Warcraft. Or, you know, WoW for those of you not hip to the lingo. The best part of this addiction is when he slips on the headset and talks to other people while he’s playing. I just sort of roll my eyes and chuckle…and remind myself that he could be crawling home at 4 a.m. and wanting to feel me up while smelling of Jim Beam and chaw. Shudder.

Anyway, the boy is, of course, fascinated by this game. He likes to commandeer a character and explore the terrain, climb on the back of a dragon (or a flying cat, because THAT’S extremely plausible) and take to the sky, or, on very rare occasions, take a thwack at some sort of troll. Just this week, he told a kid in the pre-k lineup that he’s a Level 70 Blood Elf. As though anyone knows what in the world that is.

Sometimes I want to smack myself in the head. I never intended for my child to be so plugged in. But he has an imagination that entertains him most of the time. He loves to read, he has great hand-eye coordination, and he’s just an all-around lovely little boy. I wonder sometimes if dorkdom, like eye color, is inherited…but then I think that maybe this is just time for a father and son to pretend together, to be a part of something independent of me, to snuggle up in a chair and laugh and talk.

So scoff if you want, judge if you must. But is your kid a Level 70 Blood Elf? Yeah. Didn’t think so. 😛

Or just prone to the power of suggestion? A little backstory, if you will.

My boys love pierogies. I admit to being partial to them, too. They’re potatoes. They’re pasta. They’re a carb-laden comfort food good time. And if you add a little hot sauce, a little sour cream…hoo yeah. If you’ve never had one, they look like this.

Well, ours look similar to that. Omit the onion, because if my husband ate an onion, he would surely perish. And nix the garnish because, well, that’s just too fancified.

Anyway, my mother-in-law gave me a bag of burgers from her freezer, so I decided to fix them for dinner. I usually fix fries with burgers, or something equally gluttonous, like macaroni and cheese. And, just as an aside, folks, it’s macaroni and cheese, or MAYBE mac and cheese. It is NOT mac ‘n chz, mac ‘n’ cheez, or mac-n-chz. Jeez. It’s no wonder most eighth-graders can’t read. But back to the eventual point…

I looked in the freezer for fries and stumbled upon the corner of a box of pierogies. I got distracted, closed the freezer, and started thinking that maybe, just maybe, pierogies and burgers would would work together. I thought, hey, I’m onto something unusual here. So I pulled out the box. And there, on the front of the box, was a picture of the pierogies…next to a cheeseburger. See?

So I’m no innovator. I just file away suggestions and reprocess them as my own thoughts. Isn’t that special?

But all I want for Christmas is a CD of dogs barking Christmas tunes. Seriously. And verily.

Why, you might ask, would I yearn to possess such a cacophony of canine caroling?

Well, for revenge, of course.

Every now and again I have to post about my neighbors and their barking dogs, because frankly, if I don’t vent my spleen in blog-land, I might vent it directly on the neighbors, and that might be something I regret in the morning.

I don’t know why this inverse relationship exists, but it seems the less people have to protect, the more mangy, noisy dogs they keep around to protect it. The guy next door has had an array of dogs: Rottweilers, pit bulls, shepherds, beagles (Oh, lord, the beagles). Every single one of them is kept outside, either chained or in a pen, and is quite vocal about expressing its dissatisfaction with the situation. The people behind us have at least five yappy Chihuahuas. At one point, guy-next-door’s Rottweiler killed all the Chihuahuas belonging to people behind us. It was sad, but boy, was that a blissful three days of quiet. So guy behind us shot and killed one of (note, ONE OF) guy-next-door’s dogs. In a neighborhood with 1/3- to 1/2-acre lots. In broad daylight. With kids around. But that’s another story.

ANYWAY, I have enjoyed a week of unbridled yapping from the shepherd, pit bull, and husky next door, and from the numerous Chihuahuas behind. Seriously, whatever happened to having a nice dog that was part of your family? Why on earth would you want multiple dogs that you just leave outside, regardless of weather, and allow to bark for hours and hours and HOURS on end? I mean, don’t you think you yourself would be irritated by all that barking?

So that’s where the dogs-barking-Christmas-carols CD comes in. We have a big screened porch. I have a grand plan to finally use the beautiful stereo my husband has been storing in a closet for the past few years due to lack of space. I’m going to set it up on the porch, on a beautiful day when everyone is outside. I’m going to point those Boston Acoustics. One to the side, one to the back. I’m going to insert the CD of dogs barking Christmas carols. I’m going to turn it up, man. And then I’m going to leave for the day.

Is that petty and small? We paid too much money for a modest little house that we like. I’m kind of resentful that I can’t enjoy my yard because every time I walk outside, I’m accosted by barking. We’ve planted screening trees and are biding our time waiting for them to grow. But until then, can’t I have a *little* satisfaction? Because really, after hearing a solid hour of dogs barking “Deck the Halls,” I would bring that dog the fuck indoors.

So here’s an interesting development.

A friend of mine called me this morning to tell me that while reading the paper, she saw that the guy who lives behind us is on the neighboring county’s “Top 10 Most Wanted” list for failure to appear in court and probation violation. There’s a reward for information that leads to his apprehension.

Honestly. He’s holed up in his house nearly every day while his stupid, stupid, STUPID six Chihuahuas bark their heads off. You’d think the cops would just cruise on by. But my friend said she thinks I should turn him in. There might be enough reward to go out to lunch, she said. 😉 Ahh, she knows my priorities well, this one.

No way in hell, though. This guy is so foul, so repulsive, so low on the evolutionary scale that he’s maybe one step above amoeba, if you catch him on a day when he combs his hair. He’s just gross. He came to our door once to ask a perfectly normal and civilized question, and it was all I could do not to puke on his feet. Because of him, what has the potential to be a nice little pocket of the neighborhood is instead its stinky armpit. He and his foul-mouthed troglodytic wife are the topic of a blog unto themselves, and a topic best left for another day. Never fear, fair readers. You too will one day know the, um, wonder of the man my friend has coined the Waddling Wall-eyed Wonder.

Anyway, besides being all those things, he’s also the kind of guy who would break your car windows if he suspected you of doing anything untoward, such as, say, informing the police of his whereabouts (even though he is clearly AT HOME). I’m just not stepping into that territory.

Wise decision, no? I’m just saying.

Hehehe. If that’s not melodrama, I don’t know what is.

Today is perfect chili weather. It’s in the low 60s, windy, and rainy from an incoming nor’easter. So chili it is. For reasons I’ll discuss in another post, I don’t use easy, incredibly convenient packets of chili seasoning. My husband can’t dig it. So I just throw a bunch of stuff in a pot, add spices and an insane amount of chili powder, and it turns out magically delicious.

I had exactly one tablespoon of chili powder, and anyone knows that’s not enough for a decent pot of chili. I had errands to run, including a trip to Dollar Tree, so I figured I would pick up some there. Any store has chili powder. I even asked. No chili powder. I just can’t pay $5 for the grocery store stuff, so I figured that of course, in the back of my spice cabinet, I would have a spare jar. I always do. And I did. And it was empty.

I don’t know why in the hell I would return an empty jar of chili powder to the cabinet, but there you have it. I think I may be slightly moronic. Regardless, I’m making it work. There is a bitching pot of chili simmering on the stove. But dinner might be interesting….

😀

I’m back! My husband (the one who hates both chili and taco seasoning, thus guaranteeing that making either of these ostensibly easy dishes is generally a pain in the ass) declared it my best pot of chili in the entire 16 years he has known me. I should make it this way every time. Um. That’s the downside of just throwing a bunch of crap in a pot. 😉