poppies

“Have you ever looked at a poppy seed?” I asked my 146 Instagram followers — after some inspiration (instaspiration?) while prepping a cult classic dish of my mom’s, entitled Poppy Chicken — and before a single follower saw it, double-clicked, or cared, I began to blog about it.

If you’ve never looked at a poppy seed, I will describe the experience to you.

First, you see a pile of poppy seeds and your impression is Black. Then, No, blue. And the closer you look, the more variegated the pile becomes, until you begin to see tiny, textured, kidney shaped seeds, each its own color: light gray, charcoal, blue, yellow, cream, brown, pink. It’s delightful, and I highly recommend the exercise.

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(best viewed on a phone)

 

Welcome to my first recipe post, which is also probably my last.


Poppy Chicken
(most likely brought to you by a 1980s Ritz box)

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 8 oz. sour cream (or Greek yogurt, I’ve found, to reduce some of the dairy for my lactose-sensitive partner)
  • 10 oz. frozen peas (sometimes I parboil some broccoli and add that, too)
  • 2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (or equivalent homemade – chicken broth, milk, flour, seasoning; can’t really escape the dairy here. That’s what Lactaid is for.)
  • 1 T. poppy seeds
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 sleeves of Ritz, crumbled

Directions

  1. Cook chicken for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.
  2. While the chicken cooks, mix everything else except the butter and Ritz together in a bowl.
  3. Once the chicken finishes cooking, remove from oven (but keep the oven on!), let cool enough to handle, and chop into bite-sized pieces. I like to do a fairly small dice; it saves on chewing energy later.
  4. Combine chicken with soup/sour cream/pea/poppy mixture and transfer to a 9×13″ casserole dish.
  5. Mix the Ritz crumbles and melted butter until combined. Yes, you will need to use your hands. Distribute over the top of the casserole. Don’t forget the corners and edges!
  6. Bake for 30 minutes at 350, until bubbly and golden brown on top. Serve!
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fears

I lay awake in bed at three o’clock this morning and listened to the wind gusts that left many of my northern friends and family without power today. I could feel a draft swirling through the apartment and hoped the old pecan tree outside wouldn’t disrobe its branches on my frightened little car below.

As a young child, I was convinced the dead tree outside my window would fall onto my room with the slightest provocation of nighttime wind. When I got older and upgraded to the bedroom on the second floor, I dreaded the same thing, but with the ash tree on the other side of the house. In every scenario, the trees, violated by the wind, would crush me in my bed. Sometimes I would die, although more often I would be trapped or my legs would be broken, but the trees never missed. Sometimes I would pull the covers over my head for protection from these scenarios, sometimes for protection from the draft.

I didn’t fear the wind nearly as much during the day. A tall pine that lived behind the stone wall would creak and visibly sway in the wind, but I felt more interested in it than afraid. That’s because the daytime wind has a friendlier sort of wildness, especially when it’s warm and wet and dampens the hair at the base of your head into humid ringlets. Cold wind makes the top layer of snow dance and blows it in your eyes. Though rough, it’s playful. But the wind at night has a wildness that filled me with dread.

Nighttime wind sneaks into the edges of your house, slides under your door, seeps through your window panes. It’s inky and violent. It doesn’t want to play. It wants to fell trees and crush you (and your car) in your sleep.

The weeping willow, which loomed over the back yard, shook wildly in the wind, dropping leaves, whips, and catkins in its wake. When daytime gusts would become too strong for me to continue playing outside, I would race back towards the house, in playful earnest, until I determined I was out of range of the willow tree, were it to get blown over. I knew the day I didn’t make this hustle would be the day the tree crushed me, and I wasn’t about to let my guard down.

However, I was wrong. We were all inside the day the willow tree fell.

In this story, weeping willow is an apt name. When you have a dear friend who is a tree, it is okay to cry when it dies, even if you are fourteen years old and in high school. It had likely been dying for years, as evinced by the shelf mushrooms and spongy wood we found running all the way through its massive trunk; but a tree as anthropomorphized as Grandmother Willow dies the day she falls.

We heard a loud crack, and then a thud. That word thud conjures not only the sound she made on impact, but also a feeling in the pit of my stomach, whenever I remember. Thud has come to mean a dull, heavy sound, but it’s related to an old word that meant “violent wind”. That afternoon the wind had a violent, nighttime streak and knocked down the best tree I ever had the honor of knowing. With a thud, the wind performed a sacrifice that was not its to make.

I still fear the destruction of body and property that a strong wind can bring. At night it still sounds occult, like a wandering poltergeist with a thirst for havoc. The wind in its chaos makes the things you most fear happen when you least expect them to: All those nights of expecting to be crushed by a tree could not prepare me for the thud of Grandmother Willow, bowing under the pressure of the wind one last time.

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RIP Grandmother Willow, October 2006

collection

The driveway to my house growing up was made up of small rocks. Not gravel or pebbles, but rocks maybe one to two inches in diameter. In the winter, this made the driveway a nightmare to shovel; and in the spring, we would have to pick out and put back all the rocks that had been shoveled into the lawn throughout the winter.

Unsurprisingly, as I originate from the Granite State, most of those rocks were granite. There were, however, a fair number of quartz ones, and ones with sparkly mica throughout, and these I collected. Any time I found an interesting or appealing rock, I would remove it from the driveway and pile on the outdoor fireplace. Perhaps it’s needless to say that, by the end of my childhood, our driveway was practically bare.

This interest extended into the greater world, too: I distinctly remember a library day in elementary school when I took out (and then renewed) the Smithsonian’s Rock and Gem Book, just to pore over the brightly colored jewels and minerals photographed. (There was even a rock that looked like what we would later know as the poop emoji.)

I collected other things, too. During the autumns when my sisters were away at school but I was still too young, my mom and I would take nature walks and collect the brightest fallen leaves we could find. We “laminated” them with packing tape onto a large roll of paper. We kept that for years.

But my biggest and longest-lasting collection is stickers. I can’t tell you how many times during college that I kicked myself for not having brought my sticker collection with me to school. I finally righted that wrong senior year, and it has not left my side since. It’s always there for me in a time of need, which in recent years has primarily meant my nephews’ birthdays.

I keep them all in a small, red, plastic briefcase that has the words “Sticker Treasure Kit” emblazoned on it in sparkles with twenty-seven sparkly smileys beneath. The hinge was taped back together long ago.

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A trove of untold treasures

As I worked on my nephew’s belated birthday card this afternoon, I pulled out the ol’ kit in a hurry and flipped through its contents to find what I needed. Letter stickers. I knew I had many pages of different kinds of lettering, but what were the odds that I would still possess the correct letters for a birthday message? I always used them sparingly, but of course there would not be an “L” to be found. (It is, after all, the greatest letter in the alphabet.) Miracle of miracles, I dug up enough of the same style lettering to write “HAPPY 8th B*DAY ARI” in curly, yellow letters. The remainder of the card I littered with other stickers, among which were a great cat from Disney’s Tarzan, a sun wearing nerdy glasses, a bee, and some planets.

My collection is extensive. Stickers intended to be used as the nail-art of a nine-year-old. Braille letter stickers from a code kit I got as a present. An unimaginable number of ladybug stickers from my grandmother, because she called me her Ladybug. Smiley face stickers of every shape, size, and color. Psychedelic dancing beans (?). Creepy snowmen. A lot of fruity scratch-and-sniff stickers that have long since lost their scent.

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Miscellaneous wonders
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Only some of the ladybugs

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From a Scholastic Book Fair book I bought that totally also came with a Magic School Bus fanny pack. Choose your books wisely, kids.

To some I realize this might make me seem like a hoarder. (I promise, it’s a very small box.) But I know you can picture the way a kid’s face lights up when you offer them a sticker. Even a toddler who can’t speak yet brightens up at a sticker, and a spark of intelligence passes over their eyes because they already know, as I do, that stickers are awesome.

So, even if this collection of mine brings some criticism my way, who’s the one standing here today with four pristine condition, vintage Lisa Frank stickers, hmm?

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Seeing is believing

time

Time. There often seems to be too much and not enough, simultaneously. The pressures of what needs to be done and of what needs to be waited for, swirling around my mind, paralyzing me. The thought I don’t have time for that! crosses my mind multiple times a day, but for the most part it’s just an imagination of my anxiety. Once I realized this fantasy of helplessness, I decided to compile a list of things that I do have time for, things I can squeeze into my day pretty much no matter what, even when I feel like I can’t.

I have time to wash a dish in the sink.

I have time to make a cup of coffee in the morning.

I have time to leave my house ten minutes earlier and walk to work instead of drive.

I have time to give my partner a hug.

I have time to check the mail. (This one’s easy for me; I check it somewhat obsessively. Even on Sundays.)

I have time to be kind.

It seems crazy that I have to remind myself of such simple things. When life gets overwhelming and The List reaches a record length, it helps bring me sanity to remember that there are daily victories hiding in the chaos.

Time has been trucking on at an unbelievable pace these last seven months. Days away from my wedding now, I’m thankful for my ability to accomplish tasks that I know, though simple to me, are real challenges for many people. I can wake up every morning and go to work. I can feed and bathe myself. I can drive to the store. I can sleep seven hours.

The days fly by. But they haven’t run me over.

le café

I’ve been quite sick for over a week now. One thing that sickness always affects is my coffee consumption—it irritates my throat and tastes funny, so for the first few days of being sick I just don’t bother. This probably makes me feel even worse than I would, since I’ve been a cup-a-day-er since fifteen. Anyway, being sick had me thinking a lot about coffee (because green tea just doesn’t cut it).

I have an interesting mix of snobby and trashy coffee habits. For example, I only drink pour-over and I can’t stomach dark roast, but I’ll also leave my coffee out for hours and still drink it later. I try not to judge people too much for their own coffee habits (I’m looking at you, Pumpkin Spice), because mine have changed drastically over the years.

For a couple years we only bought expensive locally roasted beans, until we finally admitted that we weren’t quite rich enough for that lifestyle yet. From sugar and 1/2 and 1/2 to black (out of the necessities of college life at first, then out of preference); from automatic drip to manual pour-over; from the darkest I could find to medium-light at most; from pre-ground to my worst nightmare being that the power goes out and we can’t use the grinder.

Here are a few of my current feelings and practices.


How many coffee mugs do I need to be happy?

Answer: Four functional ones. Right now I have three functional and one broken, which I haven’t thrown away yet because coffee cups can be sentimental too, you know.

How much coffee should I drink before it’s safe to drive?

A: At least one-third of my cup. Before that, my brain thinks it’s too much effort to look both ways before turning. I have accidentally driven right past a stop sign, which left me wondering how it’s not illegal for a coffee drinker to drive uncaffeinated.

Have I experienced caffeine withdrawal?

A: My first thought many mornings, especially on days I get to sleep in, is that I need to make coffee. Sometimes it’s my first word of the day, croaked out in supplication to my partner. It has also occasionally been my main motivation for getting out of bed, even though I don’t feel like I actually like coffee all that much. I rarely finish a whole cup, and I often don’t enjoy it. It’s simply a fact of life. With any luck this will be the closest I ever edge toward an addiction.

I drink my coffee black, so why should I wash the mug with soap?

A: This practice is acceptable in college, but not after (although my partner would protest). But, if I’m being honest, I still think a good, hot rinse-and-rub is okay about every other time.

What is the perfect temperature for coffee consumption?

A: Right between “my mouth will never taste again!” and “why do people even drink this shit?” This window lasts roughly 45 seconds.

How many times am I going to microwave the remaining half inch of coffee in my mug before I accept that I’m never going to finish it, or decide to turn it into iced coffee instead?

A: About five.

And, related:

How long is too long to have my coffee sitting out, unfinished, before I can no longer in good conscience turn it into iced coffee?

A: More than a day.


Judge away.

This morning’s coffee, the dregs of which I turned into iced coffee.

good

The house is almost out of food, but my feet hurt too much to grocery shop and it’s too hot to cook anyway, so here I am, writing, prolonging the inevitable.

I had a good week. My car, which had been making a sound that concerned me, was discharged with a clean bill of health (and a mere thirty dollar bill) by my trusted mechanic. My partner and I watched through the new Netflix original show, GLOW, which we enjoyed immensely and recommend.

I planned every morning to get up early so I could make coffee and lunches and have enough time to sit on the couch and drink my coffee instead of heading directly to work…and I made this happen one whole time! Monday morning I had enough time to do all of the above, and to finish a short story by The New Yorker author Yiyun Li, from her stories collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. The experience was so lovely, so the rest of the week I continued to set alarms for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:10, and 6:15, but, alas, my half-asleep self has always been a stubborn, brutish fiend. I hope someday to replicate the experience. Maybe when I’m forty.

The heat and humidity has once again turned my kitchen into a sauna, and my plants are loving it. Candice the Caladium seems to have new leaf growth every day, and my partner won’t stop exclaiming about the success I’ve had with my avocado plant. (Yes, it does work! Expecting homemade guacamole in approximately three to fifteen years.)  I keep having to incrementally raise the window blinds because I believe Candy and Avi are having a height competition. Finally, my ginger root decided to become a plant again, its only stimulus from my end being disuse.

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Candy
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Avi. Just decided on this name right now, if you couldn’t tell.
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Well she’s not named Blondie. Do I need pets?

 

It just started to thunder. I’m hoping the torrential rain sends a much-needed cool night our way. But right now, as the walkway floods, I’m enjoying the heavy sound of close thunder and fat rain.

boiling eggs

I am good at following directions. This has made me a teacher’s pet, an over-critical manager, and a passable cook. But following the letter of the law sometimes fails me, as it did today when I was boiling eggs.

I decided to try a new recipe for egg salad in an attempt to cut grocery costs (E. has expensive taste in lunch meat) and because it incorporated radishes, which sounded delightful. A few months ago I finally stumbled upon the best, most hassle-free, repeatable way to boil eggs perfectly, and I was excited because it was easy enough that I could add it to my [very small] collection of “recipes” I know by heart. (Although I must admit, all I remember is that it involves a steamer insert and the number thirteen.)

Fast forward to this evening. I noticed that the new egg salad recipe seemed a bit strange in how it said to prepare the eggs. I even thought the words, “This won’t work.” But directions are directions, and I followed the steps flawlessly. When it came time to peel the eggs, I went to roll the first one along the counter to break up the shell. The entire egg smashed beneath my hand, leaving a gooey, raw mess. I felt utterly betrayed. My partner ignored me as I yelled and cursed in the other room about how it wasn’t fair. Then I did something even stupider and tried peeling a second egg.

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Bottom: four of the six original eggs, round 2. Top: the replacement eggs, boiled according to my own judgment. Reflection: me angrily taking a picture.
I reboiled the remaining four and started afresh with two new ones. After recovering from my anger at the instructions, I am now only angry at myself. May this be a lesson to me, to listen to my better judgment and, for God’s sake, to memorize more basic recipes.