Thursday, March 22, 2012

One mom’s trash…

I remember the look on my mom’s face the first time she saw me throw away a turkey carcass after I hosted Thanksgiving dinner. She was appalled. “You’re not going to make soup?” she asked, aghast. “Nope.” I don’t like turkey soup. I’ve always found it to be one of the least pleasant parts of the post-Thanksgiving turkey fest. The part when you take the leftover meat, throw it into the leftover gravy, and pour it onto open-face sandwiches on white bread… now you’re talking. But soup? Soup comes in a can. And you eat it when you’re camping or when you’re sick or when you’re on Weight Watchers because a can of soup is like 3 points and Weight Watchers doesn’t care if it has a two-day supply of sodium.

Fast forward.

I still hate turkey soup, but now I would totally bag up someone else’s turkey bones and bring them home if they were going to throw them out. Two reasons. One: food snobbery. Homemade stock is better than broth from a can. It’s better. It’s just… better. More flavor, more luscious mouthfeel, better. And two: money. Homemade stock is free. It’s f&$#ing free! You make it with stuff you would throw away. How cool is that? OK, not cool-cool, I know. Cool-cool is going out to eat at trendy places and being a vegetarian and not eating turkey at all. Whatever. Still. It’s free. I’m just sayin’.

OK, now I am going to talk about making chicken/turkey and vegetable stock from scratch. I’m also going to talk briefly about a couple of other ways to save money by saving and using stuff you usually throw in the trash or the compost. Wait, never mind. I can’t really talk about that stuff here. Next thing you know I’ll be making jello molds and wearing a jaunty Christmas sweater un-ironically. Oh god, kill me. I am not that mom, I promise. In my house, the clean laundry usually sits on the ottoman in my bedroom until I just pick stuff out of the clean pile to wear again. I’m just like you. Only probably drunker. This is not a “Look how great I am because I make stock from scratch and also clean under the oven while I’m at it” blog post. No. This is a “We are all trying to find every drop of money in the budget and look, here’s how you can make free stock even if you are a total lazy ass like me” post. OK? If it helps, you can picture me doing all of this stuff in my pajamas with a big glass of box wine and dirty hair. Because that’s probably true.

OK, enough disclaimers about how I am not as Susie Homemaker as I am about to seem. Homemade stock. Here’s what I do. Any time I am making a salad or cooking anything else, I save the discarded bits of things. Celery ends (including leaves), green onion and leek tops and roots, onion skins and ends, herb stems (or extra herbs after a recipe if I know I won’t use them before they go bad), carrot bases and peels, mushroom stems, artichoke stems and outer leaves, squash ends, etc. All of these scraps go in a gallon ziploc bag in the freezer. If you want to make vegetable stock, that’s all you need. You’ll want a good amount of oniony bits, celery, carrots, and hopefully some mushrooms if you’re doing the meat-less version. It’s less important what’s in the bag if you’re making chicken or turkey stock, though onion-like things of some sort are probably necessary.

So after a meal, when you have some poultry bones lying around taunting you with how you’ll never be as good a cook as your mother, you can go ahead and make stock with the bones and those frozen veggies. OR (!!!) if you’re a lazy sack like me and just made the damn dinner and want to sit with your feet up and drink wine because you already cooked once today dammit, you can throw the bones in a ziploc in the freezer and make it when you have time. That’s the key. The freezer. Because especially after you’ve just eaten a chicken or a turkey and are filled with wonderful happy tryptophan, that is the time for rubbing your belly and then taking a nap, not being all productive and making stock from scratch.

OK, so then let’s say it’s a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks later, and I’m feeling like I have some energy. My hubby let me sleep in, and then I got up and had some bacon, and then started my day of reading smutty novels while the kids played in the back yard. And then lunch and maybe a little mini-nap on the couch. Now it’s 2pm, and I’m feeling well-rested and wicked productive all of a sudden. This is a good time to make some stock.

Throw a bunch of veggies and herb stems and whatever’s in the freezer bag into the bottom of a big soup pot with a little bit of oil. I brown them a bit to get some caramelization going. Since they are frozen, this takes more time than usual. You don't have to do this if you don't feel like it. If you don't care about caramelization, skip the oil. Throw some garlic in—fresh, from a jar, garlic powder, whatever. Black pepper. A bay leaf if you have it. Only if you have it. Don’t buy stuff for this. Once the veggies have some color (or when you’re tired of standing up at the stove), put the chicken or turkey bones in, and fill with enough water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer and simmer all day uncovered until it tastes like broth. For me, that usually takes about 6 hours. It depends on how much water you use. Your house will smell like soup. Be at one with that reality. Your kids will whine that they don’t like the smell and don’t want to eat whatever you’re making. Reassure them that they don’t have to.

If you’re doing a vegetable version, fill your soup pot maybe 1/2 full with veggies. For poultry, maybe 1/4-1/3 full. You know, it’s not an exact science. If you put in too much water, you’ll just have to simmer longer. No big. At the end, when it kind of tastes like broth but not quite right, add some salt. The one thing that’s hard to fix is too much salt, so go easy. Don’t add salt at the beginning because it gets saltier as you simmer and reduce.

That’s it. You strain out the stuff* and you have free f*&#ing broth. People talk about cheesecloth and whatever to make your broth very clear. I don’t have cheesecloth, so I just use a colander. Once I have my fabulous free broth, I use the smallest size plastic food storage container thingies and put 1 cup of broth in each. Freeze it, and then once frozen, you can run hot water on the bottom of the container and pop the frozen broth out. Put the 1-cup portioned broth ice cubes in… you guessed it… a ziploc. That goes back into the freezer to use in recipes. (No, I do not work for or take money from the ziploc people. And I re-use the veggie and broth-ice-cube ziplocs indefinitely because those things are not free. Unlike your broth.)

If you’re like me, you will wind up with more broth than you would normally use. Find a couple of broth-heavy recipes you like for when that happens. My favorites are sausage soup and risotto. My mushroom risotto recipe uses 9 cups of broth. Rice is extremely cheap, so at that point, you’re basically just buying mushrooms and a couple of shallots and dispensing a cup or so of wine from the Big House Unchained Chardonnay box in your fridge. What? You don’t have a box of Unchained in your fridge? Why not? It’s awesome.

Sausage soup… I can give you that recipe right here. My mom got this recipe by asking what was in a soup she liked at an Italian restaurant. They told her. It’s 4 things. And one of those things is your free f*&#ing broth. This recipe is delicious and super easy. Next time Italian sausage is on sale, buy it and make this with your free broth. Cut a package of mild Italian sausage into coins or chunks or whatever. Brown in the bottom of a soup pot until cooked through and very brown all over. Drain the fat, but you don’t have to be super fastidious about it. Sausage fat is yummy. Pour in a bunch of broth (defrost frozen broth in the microwave first). I don’t know how much. A bunch. Enough to cook a pound of pasta in. Scrape up any brown bits to make sure they’re all in the broth. Pour in a pound of pasta. I use rotini. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the pasta is cooked. When the pasta is ready, stir in a huge amount of raw spinach. Like two bags worth or one of those big tubs. Let it cook a minute or two to wilt the spinach. Serve topped with parmesan cheese. If you have leftovers, the pasta will soak up all of the broth, so you can either eat it as a pasta dish or add more frozen free broth to make it soup again.

So, there you go. Free f*&#ing broth. What else can we do?

Bananas. Did you know you can freeze them when they get too brown? And then thaw them when you’re ready to make banana bread? They look black and gross on the outside and smell like a banana liqueur factory when they thaw, but inside, they are perfect for banana bread. Stone fruit, apples, pears, or berries feeling “less than fresh” (heh)? Cut them up and freeze them, to thaw later for a crisp or crumble.

OK, that’s enough. We’re like a paragraph and a half from my friends starting to ask if I have been taken over by aliens, so I’ll stop. But if you have any money-saving tips for making free or almost-free food** or throwing away less waste, please put them in the comments. If you would like to maintain your (perhaps questionable) street cred, clearly my preferred methods are F-bombs and revealing embarrassing things about yourself. If you would like to do both, please feel free.

*P.S. When straining out the stuff, don’t forget to put a bowl or something under the colander. It seems like a no-brainer, but usually when we use a colander, we want the liquid to go down the drain. You don’t want to pour your broth down the drain. I recommend setting up the bowl and colander on the counter at the beginning of the process, while you are still sober, so you don’t forget. You laugh, but at least one of you would have poured your broth down the drain if I hadn’t said this.

**Regarding almost-free food, one of my good friends has a food blog called The Impoverished Foodie in which she gives recipes and a cost breakdown per serving. She's gluten-free and mostly vegetarian (with some fish), and I completely trust her to make astonishingly good food on a professional musician's budget.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sex in the suburbs

Three of the other moms in my kids’ dance class are triathletes. One is a nutritionist. They talk a lot about training and diet and upcoming races. I am in awe of what they accomplish, but I’m also not that interested. So I read a lot. Sometimes we take a break from workout talk and talk about our kids, or cooking, or laundry, or funny stories from the aesthetician about waxing male body hair. I put down my book then. But mostly, I read. It’s a lovely hour to myself in a world of my choosing.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the women recommended a book, Fifty Shades of Grey. She said that she thought of me when she read it and knew I would like it. She mentioned that it was recommended to her and that she was surprised (and embarrassed) at the bookstore when they pointed her to the Erotica section. So I guess I knew it would be sexy. But I thought it was “Erotica” like the Outlander series is “Romance,” categorized that way, but genre-crossing. I was expecting maybe something in the Jacqueline Carey oeuvre.* Erotic, graphic, hot, but not… you know… one of those books.

Three pages in, I could kind of tell it was one of those books. I used to read romance novels. And by romance, I mean smut. I love romance novels. I used to think (and still sometimes think) that I would like to write them for a living. My high school AP Calculus teacher, as well as many of my classmates, signed my senior yearbook with references to wanting a copy of my first smutty novel. At 17 and a virgin, valedictorian of my high school class, my career aspiration was to write fabulously dirty fiction, and I made no secret of it. OK, so it’s one of those books, OK. Oh look, a ludicrously rich, ludicrously handsome guy. Shocker. I bet he has a ludicrously large package as well. Those kinds of clich├ęs are why I eventually tired of romance novels. But still, they have… hmmm… a certain appeal. Skim skim skim… let’s get to the good part.

Um, this isn’t regular porn. Are they really going there? Wow, they’re going there. This book is not just porn. It’s kinky porn. It’s full-on BDSM porn. Wow. And that lovely, put-together mom at dance class said she knew I would like it. Holy hell. What did I say in that room to make her think that? I’m pretty open with my friends about sex. I like talking about it and joking about it. I am quick with a “That’s what she said,” and even quicker with a slightly raised eyebrow when innuendo presents itself. But these dance moms, they’re… proper. A few of them know each other from the Catholic school their kids attend together. I thought I had been discreet. Not discreet enough, apparently.

A few days later, a BlogHer post about the Fifty Shades trilogy popped up in my facebook feed. I found out that it was originally written as Twilight fanfic,** and then re-written with new character names and removing all references to vampires. Hmm, well, that explains the parallels I noticed. I assumed it was just lazy writing and that all female characters must forevermore be self-deprecating, clumsy, and have flighty mothers. But no, Ana(stasia) was originally based on (Isa)Bella. That makes sense. The blog also talked about this book as a phenomenon. Apparently it is being passed from woman to woman like Judy Blume’s Forever was in the junior high cafeteria. That makes me feel a little better. My fellow dance mom recommended it to me because that is what happens with this book, NOT because I somehow tipped my hand and revealed myself to be some sort of closet perv. The fact that I am kind of a perv was just luck on her part. Heh.

The success of the Fifty Shades trilogy has spawned a new genre: “mommy porn.” Mommy porn? Seriously? I kind of want to be irritated about that. There’s something demeaning about the phrase “mommy porn.” Just because I’m a mommy doesn’t mean I don’t want real porn. Or… something. I don’t know. It annoys me. But in any case, it’s sort of accurate. The next week at dance class, we talked about the book, and it turns out that one of the other women is scheduled to read it for her book club. Her book club?! I want to type a jaw-drop emoticon in here right now, but am restraining myself. No emoticons in my blog. Please just picture my dropped jaw. This woman has monogrammed bags and shops at Pottery Barn. Her child is always perfectly turned out in Lelli Kelly Mary Janes with seasonal ribbons in her adorably styled hair. She is on the decorations committee for the galas at her kids’ Catholic school. And she is reading S&M porn in her book club. I am utterly mystified. This book is being passed around like a Pinterest recipe for hot fudge Oreo brownies. Except instead of a brownie recipe, it’s S&M porn.

W. T. F.

I imagine the success of these books was unexpected. All of a sudden, soccer moms know about things like safewords, spreader bars, and the sexual uses of a Wartenberg wheel. That’s interesting, and kind of cool. On the other hand, BDSM urges are pathologized to some extent in the books. Not cool. For better or for worse, and almost certainly not by design, Fifty Shades is representing the BDSM community to non-kinky people. I wonder how the community feels about that. But the bigger question for me is why these books are so wildly popular among non-kinky, carpooling, meal-planning moms? Do mommies everywhere secretly just want to be bent over the pool table, (consensually) spanked, and taken?

Um, never mind. Yeah.

I am currently in the middle of the third book, and I’m glad I’ll be finished with them soon. I bring my kindle with me everywhere. Five minutes early to pick up the kids at preschool? I pull out my kindle and read a little. Kids playing sweetly and the laundry is already in? I put my feet up and go into fictional worlds until the next spat requires my intervention, or until someone wants Cheese-its or a glass of water or needs a snuggle or their butt wiped. But for the past week or so, instead of dropping into a gripping story, I am dropping into… well… you know. Stuff. It’s been very distracting. I’m not sure that “mommy” and “porn” mix so well during the daylight hours.

But maybe the time is right for me to revisit my high school career ambition. The minivan set is openly reading smut. That’s new. And right at a time when I am thinking about what I’ll do when the kids go to kindergarten. Maybe it’s a sign.

*If the kinkier scenes in Fifty Shades were your cup of tea and you have not read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, run, don’t walk. They’re much more extreme kink-wise—much more extreme—but they tell an epic story set in an exquisitely crafted world, and are stunningly well written. If I could sit down with any writer, alive or dead, it would absolutely be Jacqueline Carey. [Edited to add, because a few people have misunderstood, that Jacqueline Carey's work is NOT porn. The Kushiel and Naamah books are graphic and sexual, but that is just part of the story, not the point of the story.]

**In discussing this series with my friends, I was surprised at how many didn’t know what fanfic meant. Fanfic is fiction written by fans. The writer takes the universe and characters of a book, TV show, or movie and uses them to tell a story of their own. By story, uuuuuusually I mean porn. Not all fanfic is porn, but a lot of it is. Hot sex scenes you didn’t get to see on screen, or between characters who never got together in the original story. I don’t mean to belittle fanfic. It’s not all porn. Some of it is quite well-written. Sometimes you discover moving, original stories that just happen to take place in someone else’s copyrighted universe. But most of it… yeah… you know. And not that an innocent girl like me would ever read such things, but if you like yourself some good X-rated Buffy-Spike action, this bit of fanfic might make you happy. Enjoy. Don’t say I never gave you anything.