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I love cooking shows. I mean, I love cooking, which is likely obvious. Hopefully it’s also obvious I never make any of the disgusting retro recipes I post on here. Except for Big Mac Casserole, which I make for Jay and my Dad. Apparently a lot of other people love Big Mac Casserole, too, cuz according to my blog stats, people are constantly searching for Big Mac Casserole recipes. Shudder.

Part of the fun of cooking is making food for the people you love. At least it is for me. My sisters and I started cooking when we could reach the stove. Not out of love, but because it was on the Chore List. We were actually making stuff like homemade spaghetti sauce at about age 10. I think the first meal we ever made was breakfast in bed for our parents on their wedding anniversary. What kid in the ’70s didn’t try that at least once? I’m sure everyone made the same thing … weak coffee and burnt toast – with the morning newspaper set on the tray to make it fancy.

When it comes to cooking, I have a basic rotation I’m comfortable with, featuring the usual suspects like enchiladas, stir-fries, soups, pastas and what-not. I certainly don’t attempt Beef Wellington or Lobster Thermidor like some Julia Child-wannabe; I just make what Jay and I like. But I do like to watch all the fancy cooking shows for inspiration. I’ve learned how to make a meal in under 30 minutes (thanks “Rachael”), chop onions with oven mitts on (thanks “Cutthroat Kitchen”) and create a delectable appetizer with a box of mystery ingredients featuring dandelion greens, jicama, pickled plums and Rocky Mountain oysters (thanks “Chopped”).

But for this bona fide germaphobe (that’s me), it’s difficult watching a bunch of frantic, perspiring pseudo-chefs on a competition cooking show trying to beat the clock. I mean, some of those people are seriously dripping with sweat. There’s nothing worse than watching a bead of sweat hanging off a chef’s nose when their head is positioned right over the food. I feel like Brian Doyle-Murray’s character during the end scene in “Caddyshack” … watching and waiting for the ball to drop in the hole – only that outcome was a good one.

And it’s not just the piles of bodily fluids pouring off their foreheads, it’s also the other disgusting things the chefs do. They’ll take a sip out of a bottle of some soda or wine or something, and then pour some in their dish. They’ll rub their ear and nose with their fingers and then grab a pinch of salt to add to their masterpiece. And hey, I never see them wash their hands. Well, sometimes I watch a chef who has their own cooking show dissect a chicken and then say, “Gotta wash my hands.” Then they’ll cut to a close-up of the faucet spout (Why??!! Who cares??!!) while the chef rubs their hands under the water for 1.5 seconds. Yes, that certainly killed off all the salmonella.

Anyway, some of these competition cooking shows are starting to get on my nerves. At least the judges are. Plus, the melodrama and music scores of some of the shows are also tough to watch and listen to. If they don’t lighten up a bit, I may have to stop watching cooking shows altogether. But I think the profusion of sweat may make me stop watching first. Then again, if the condescending judges are the only ones that have to eat that perspiration-drenched, contaminated food, I say, “Sweat away, Sweaty.”

 

If you have to live in Fresno, California, one good thing is you usually have at least some type of citrus tree in your yard. We do. In fact, we have 12. There’s a small orange grove in our yard, which is like an acre and a half. And we have two kumquat trees. And a loquat tree. If you don’t know what that is, you’re missing out. I can’t wait till those ripen. We had a loquat tree when I was growing up in Napa. Those things are delicious. I didn’t think I’d ever find one again, but when we got here, there it was in all its glory. That was my first sign that maybe Fresno wouldn’t suck.

So yeah, I have oranges coming out of my a**. I remember visiting Papa Don in Arizona and seeing his fancy electric citrus juicer. I went back to Oregon and bought one of those bad boys so I could juice oranges. Only I had to buy bags of them to do it. Now I have all the oranges I want … for free. It’s awesome. But I don’t know how much longer they’ll last. We’ve harvested them again and again, so there aren’t that many left now. But the trees keep getting new blossoms (which smell like heaven BTW), though I don’t think oranges have a second harvest. In the meantime I’m looking at a full bag sitting on the kitchen table. I can’t make orange stuff fast enough. I’ve made Orange Muffins, Orange Cupcakes, Orange Sugar Cookies, Orange Chicken, Orange Glazed Salmon … the list goes on and on. And naturally I’ve squeezed a gazillion oranges for juice and zested about a bazillion. My freezer is turning orange. But I’m not complaining; it’s awesome. I went home (to Oregon) last month and checked a huge suitcase full of oranges to take to the family. I can’t get rid of these things fast enough. I hand them out to Jay’s brother, Jay’s co-workers, visiting relatives, the neighbors, the pool guy … yeah, I have a pool guy. Fresno doesn’t suck.

Anyway, when I juice oranges I think of my Grandpa BK. When I was a kid and spent the night at BK and ME’s house, BK would go out to his orange tree in the backyard, pick a bunch, and come into the house and squeeze them (by hand, not with the fancy electric juicer like I have). Me and my sisters were raised on frozen concentrate and Tang, so when BK offered us the fresh-squeezed OJ, we’d wince – so he’d add a little sugar and it was all good. He was so proud of that tree. He’d be thrilled with our little orange grove.

Another thing I think about when I juice oranges is that ’70s kid show H.R. Pufnstuf. I loved that crazy thing. I wanted Freddy the Flute more than Witchiepoo did. And she’s why I can’t get this ridiculous song out of my head when I juice oranges.

Chicken Pot Pie

Mary Ann made Chicken Pot Pie when we were kids. Actually, I think Banquet made it, and Mom baked it. Hurl. I never liked it. Seems like it always ended up burnt on at least one side and half of the top. The only part I liked was the bottom crust … assuming it stayed soft and didn’t get burned also. There was always about one cube of fake carrot and about three fake peas floating around in there. Not a fan. Sorry I don’t have a fancy Chicken Pot Pie recipe for you, because I never make it. The only thing that comes to mind when I hear “Chicken Pot Pie” is this:

 

 

But I recently ate a Chicken Pot Pie … and loved it. Actually it was a Chicken Pie – no Pot. I had said pie in Fresno – the armpit of California. Why did I eat a Chicken Pie in Fresno? Because I live there now. I haven’t had a chance to tell many people because it happened quickly and this last month has been a whirlwind. Jay was offered a fantastic career opportunity, thanks to his bro James, and I reluctantly agreed to the move. We hope to be here just a few years, but still. If you asked me to make a list of 100 places I’d like to live, Fresno would not be on it. Fresno wouldn’t even have the chance to be honored to be nominated for the list.

So I left Oregon and my family, kicking and screaming the whole way. Well, I didn’t kick and scream on the drive here; that would’ve made it even more difficult to navigate my truck and trailer on the highway. Though once we hit California, the other drivers were kicking and screaming. Jay said some were even flipping him off as he drove the U-Haul ahead of me. Ah, I remember road rage.

I did some research on Fresno before the move. Despite boasting a super high crime rate, horrid air quality and ridiculously hot summers, the city has a cool area called the Tower District. I made Jay take me there last weekend, so I could try to find something to like about Fresno. And, it was pretty cool! Funky shops, antique stores, Sequoia Brewing Company and the art deco Tower Theatre. The theater was closed, so we were peeking through the front doors. An employee saw us and let us in … in fact, they gave us a tour of the whole place and introduced us to the owners. Very cool. And, across the street was the Chicken Pie Shop. I had read about it online, too, and figured it was worth a try. I knew at least Jay would love it.

Jay had to fight me for the Chicken Pie. We only ordered one to share, and one is just not enough. That thing was delicious. I hate gravy, but whatever they put on and in this pie was heaven – like eating Hollandaise. The place is retro – or actually, it hasn’t been updated since it opened that I can tell – and that’s part of its charm. I highly recommend checking it out it you ever make it here. Though I don’t recommend moving to Fresno.

Recess!

Wow, remember recess in the ’70s? That was crazy. As a kid who hadn’t reached double digits yet, I was dying to get out of my classroom and run around. Thinking back, there sure were lots of hazards out on that playground – a blank canvas of concrete for us to skin our knees and elbows on. In fact, I remember one specific recess in the spring of 1971 when I skinned my elbow righteously (not sure how) and some random school employee led me back to my classroom door where I had to wait, literally dripping blood, until the teacher came back from break. Nobody rushed me to the school nurse, or a hospital, and I certainly don’t remember any ambulances showing up. She just slapped some mercurochrome and a bandage on it and made me go in and finish my spelling lesson.

Sure, nowadays I imagine there are all kinds of safety measures set in place to protect little children from the horrors of the elementary school experience. But when I was a kid? Not so much. Oh, I’m not saying we didn’t look forward to those precious 15 minutes of respite from learning our ABC’s and smelling chalk dust. But there were certainly a million ways for us to maim ourselves out there.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Dodge Ball. As a bona fide shrimp of a kid, this was not my favorite recess activity. Not only was I always picked last, but I was also knocked out first … usually catching at least five feet of air in the process.

Next, the monkey bars. It wasn’t so much the monkey bars that were the problem; it was the HARD concrete below them that didn’t necessarily cushion your fall when you missed a rung. Last time I saw monkey bars at a school, I think they had those fancy cushion-y black puzzle-like pads under them. Today, I think they have feather-bed mattresses below them … or spotters from the US Olympic Team.

Let’s move on to that crazy spherical metal-climbing thing. You know the one. Kids would climb all over that thing, and at least one would fall through it, tumble over it, or get strangled in it … usually resulting in a lost front tooth. Or how about the merry-go-round? That was only fun until some kid puked on it … which was always within the first five minutes.

The slides always promised a little excitement, only our slides in the ’70s were glistening steel; on a hot, sunny day, you could get third-degree burns on those things – that was if you actually sled down the thing instead of running down it full speed.

Tetherball was fun. I played that all the time. Well, I stood there all the time while my taller opponent wrapped that ball around the pole again and again, often bopping the side of my head while they did.

If you didn’t care for the fancy playground equipment, you could always get a jump-rope, lasso some kid smaller than you, and make them be your “horse” so you could gallop around like an idiot.

Whatever Hunger Games-type of adventure we decided upon during recess, it was usually fun until the bell rang … signaling you only had about two minutes to get your ass back in your chair in your classroom. So you either had to choose to pee (and if you were a girl, get freaked out by crazy fourth-grade girls staring in the mirror and reciting that “Mary Worth, Mary Worth, I Believe in Mary Worth” creepy game) OR try to get some hydration at the water fountain. Usually I tried to get a drink of water. However, our elementary school drinking fountain had a protocol: it had four spickets, and they were unofficially designated as: Coffee, Tea, Soda Pop and Pee. Oh man, by the time recess was coming to a close, those lines were deep: Coffee had at least three kids – Tea had about four. And the Soda Pop line was a mile long … so, sometimes you went without water.

I Hate Buffets

It’s true, I hate buffets. I think I’ve mentioned that before. Yes, if I’m on vacation, or visiting family and they take us to a buffet, I indulge. I mean, I have to eat. But as a serious germaphobe, it’s a disgusting experience. I pour on hand sanitizer before, during and after filling my plate. I practice the “serve with the left, eat with the right” strategy (only touching serving utensils with my left hand) so if I have to pick up a roll or something, my right hand is clean (enough) to touch it. I literally watched a little kid stick his finger in a dessert the last time I was at a buffet. Then he licked it and stuck it back in again. I sometimes see people taking food using their own fork. Not to mention those who decide, “meh … I don’t want this after all” … and slide a serving of slop off their own plate back into the community pan. So I do what I have to do to survive at buffets. I look for the “chef” making omelets behind the serving area, or the “chef” making Mongolian-style dishes behind the serving area. When I have to get food from some community bowl or pan, I reach way in the back … after removing the top layer of cootie-exposed food.

Jay freakin’ loves buffets. He could give a rat’s ass about cooties. He loves to eat and buffets are his Disneyland. I even watch him eat rolls and cookies with either hand, and lick his fingers. Shudder. I make him stay away from me for a week after we eat at buffets.

Anyway, I had to pour through the infamous Good Housekeeping’s Casserole Cook Book for blog inspiration this week. Always disgusting, yet always accommodating. This is the precious gem I found to ridicule. It was easy — “Buffet” was in the recipe title:

buffet recipe

I’m not sure if you read all of those ingredients, but this is certainly something I’d expect to find in a buffet … in the ’70s … in hell. These fancy Good Housekeeping recipes always try to pull me in with the onions and garlic, and then BAM!! Frankfurters, olives, kidney beans and hominy. You know that stuff will look just the same in the casserole dish as it will when it’s thrown up into the toilet.

I’m a Mess

I’m not kidding when I say I watch Hoarders to feel better about myself.

Well, I’m not a hoarder, and I feel really bad for anyone struggling with that issue. See, I have a big fear of filth, dirt and cooties. I am one of the biggest germaphobes there is. I apply hand sanitizer with an antibacterial wipe. You should see it when I stay at a hotel – man, I hit that place like Hazmat. However, I am guilty of “cluttering.” Yeah, I make mini-tornados all around my house.

I definitely am a messmaker. In fact, that’s one of Jay’s nicknames for me … typically used when I’m cooking. I love to cook and experiment with new recipes. But look out. When I’m in the kitchen, there is stuff flying everywhere – measuring cups landing here, sauces flung there, vegetable peels stuck to the wall, flour poofing all over the place. I don’t know what happens. I always start out organized. I neatly put out my cutting board, bowls, whisks, measuring cups, whatever; and, of course, a garbage bowl like Rachael Ray taught us. Though I don’t have a fancy $35 dollar garbage bowl; I use a plastic grocery bag (Mom would be proud).

It’s the same thing when I make jewelry or other crafts. I have stuff everywhere. Plus, if I set a tool or component down to get back to later, when I need it, I can’t remember where I put it. When I used to work for The Man I’d do the same thing with my pen. Doesn’t matter that I just wrote something with it five minutes prior; I could never find that thing on my desk.

So as for my clutter issue, me thinks it’s just subconscious adult rebellion from growing up under the watchful eye of Mary Ann. That woman ran our house like a well-oiled machine. We had to make our beds every day (Um, what? We’re just going to sleep in them again in 16 hours. Ask me if I make my bed today …) Once, she even did the “dime test.” She bounced a dime off our sheets like they did in the military to see if they were stretched tight enough. I can’t remember if she was joking then or not. Probably not. So she wasn’t too proud when my dime hit the sheet and stuck like glue. Mom was cleaning our house 24/7. And my sisters and I had to help clean it. We had serious chore lists, people. Maybe you’ve seen that post. Along with vacuuming, dusting, floor-scrubbing, dish-washing, lunch-making and yard work, Mom would always have special tasks for us to complete. We actually had to clean the leaves of fake house plants with vinegar. We polished and shined my Dad’s work shoes. We cleaned our combs with old toothbrushes. We soaked and scrubbed shoe laces. Holy crap, I’m not sure if I’m still talking about my childhood or summarizing the film, Mommie Dearest.

I actually like having a clean, uncluttered house. I work on it every time we’re expecting company. But I will likely never file everything in my office stack of papers which is now seven inches high. I will probably never sort through my box of photos and get them in fancy little frames to put on the wall. I will probably never organize the pantry. I will probably never sort the random jewelry-making components piled all over my work desk. I will probably never go through all the random flower pots on the side of the house and paint them and plant something in them like I planned. I will probably never go through the crap stuck in the seat pockets in my car.

But that’s cool. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got better things to do. The truth is, I probably will eventually file that stack of paper (at least by April 15, 2015), and sort through the photos, and maybe even organize the pantry. But I’m pretty sure the mess-making will continue in the kitchen.

“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.”

I love that quote. Not sure who should be given credit for it … Harriet Van Horne … the Dalai Lama … Life’s Little Instruction Book. Maybe my Mom.

messy

Today’s Jay’s birthday. The big one. Well, the big one until the next decade rolls around. Jay is in a class by himself: he has so much personality, and is always coming up with the funniest things. And I’m not just talking about his famous food concoctions. No, one of his latest goals is to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. If you asked me, I’d say he was trying to break the world record for the most Selfies and Photo Bombs. I think Jay created Selfies. Here’s a picture below, taken by Jay somewhere around 2001 with a Kodak camera, when no one really knew what a Selfie was:

SAMSUNG

I remember thinking what a weirdo he was. Cute, but weird. Who takes pictures of themselves? Of course, then I saw Dave Attell take pictures of himself on “Insomniac With Dave Attell” when he was pub crawling with complete strangers. Now that was funny.

Here’s another Selfie Jay took circa 2003:

jay selfie mirror

Now that’s a fancy version of a Selfie. Taking a picture into a mirror? Somebody loves himself.  I also remember all the times in the past Jay would sneak into staged photos right when they were being snapped – which is now known as photo-bombing. Guess he invented that, too. Jay’s photo-bombing rubbed off on my Dad. Here’s Papa Don photo-bombing us. Jay was taking another Selfie and I just happened to be in it:

selfie with dad photobombing

Actually I guess Jay’s quite the revolutionary. So back to the Guinness Book of World Records. He got my attention with the word “Guinness.” Jay has many talents, and the one he’s working on now should result in, as he claims, making him the guy who can catch a grape in his mouth thrown from the farthest distance. He’ll often ask nieces and nephews to throw a grape, peanut or M&M at him so he can practice catching. Sometimes it lands in his mouth. If it doesn’t, he eats it anyway.

You know before the Guinness Book of World Records was established, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! was the world authority on oddities, extraordinary feats and weirdness. I should know; this is my Uncle:

Uncle Gardner

Yep, that’s my Great, Great Uncle Gardner Taylor. He was a blacksmith with very strong ears (“cauliflower ears” as my Dad called them) who fashioned hooks to an anvil and lifted said anvil up by his ears: 150-something pounds of anvil. He made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When I was a little kid, I remember my Grandma showing me an old postcard Uncle Gardner sent her featuring him doing the same thing. That’s when I realized I came from fancy lineage. Let’s see if I married into it.

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