That’s the way I like it

I’ve been thinking of going vegetarian again. It’s been nearly nine years since I fell off the veggie wagon, which I rode happily for about a decade previously.

Barcode me baby
Food Inc.

I wasn’t a PETA pusher. I wasn’t a Food Inc. convert. I wasn’t even especially doing it for any sort of diet benefits. Initially, I just got sick of the taste of meat, and the idea of going without struck me as something interesting to do, something that required some discipline, and something that might be good for me.

On the whole, it was. I liked being vegetarian for all these reasons, and I liked that I felt more energetic. I had no trouble with my weight. But, as I say, this was nearly 20 years ago and when you’re 30, or at least when  *I* was 30, keeping weight off wasn’t any problem at all. Now, eh. I weigh a lot more than I’m comfortable with, and, remembering how good I felt when I wasn’t consuming animals, I’m thinking I might do it again.

But things are different now. Tras, while a good sport in general, isn’t a bit interested in giving up meat. He’ll eat some meatless meals, and no matter what I do he’ll support me … but he just isn’t interested in giving up his PETA status — People Eating Tasty Animals. And hey, I do admit, even in my veggie years, I found it hard to resist pepperoni, of all things. Trassie, who’s 8, is a grazer and eats probably 60 percent of what I cook. He’s more malleable but he’s still in that “I hate X” phase, where X  represents anything the recalcitrant child has never tasted before.

So there’s that. In the previous vegetarian years, my older two, Claire and Christopher, were in the macaroni and chicken nugget years; that’s about all they’d consume.

They did eat a lot of bean burritos, too, but what they were eating was easy to whip up, and I could make my stuff separate, any way I wanted to. Their dad covered his own food.

Now, I like to cook and experiment. I do enjoy making some meats; cooking a whole turkey for 20 at Thanksgiving, for instance, was interesting. I once made roasted goat thanks to the generosity of a Muslim neighbor, who knew I’d like it when she found out I’d cooked and eaten lamb in the past.

In a valiant effort to create something the whole family might enjoy, I dreamed up a vegetarian enchilada casserole, which bears only a passing resemblance to a genuinely Mexican dish. But it turned out great. Both Tras the husband and Tras the son liked it, as did Christopher the Beginning to Eat a Whole Lot More Variety Now That He’s 15. It hasn’t yet been tested on Claire, who these days dines most often in the company of Mssr. Le Boyfriend.

So here, my friends, is the recipe. Give it a try and see if you like it as much as we did. It sort of looks long and involved, but truly it’s not. Bon apetite!

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

8-9 small corn tortillas
1 can red beans, drained & rinsed
1 can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 container large curd cottage cheese
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
3 tsp onion salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground sea salt
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
3 cups fresh spinach
1 small can sliced black olives
Shredded cheddar
Red pepper flakes
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Sliced green onions
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Queso blanco or feta

In medium mixing bowl, stir together tomatoes, beans, cottage cheese, cheeses, eggs, and spices, reserving 1 tsp onion salt.  Set aside.

Coat bottom and sides of oblong glass baking dish (8×10) with oil or cooking spray

Wrap tortillas in damp paper towels; microwave for 30 to 45 seconds until soft. Lay 4 tortillas in the bottom, overlapping as necessary.

Spoon half the bean mixture over tortillas. Layer half the sliced zucchinis over mixture, top with spinach.

Place next layer of tortillas over spinach and press into place. Layer remaining zucchini and the rest of the bean mixture.

Top with some shredded cheddar, olives, queso blanco (or feta), red pepper flakes and onion salt.

Cover with foil and bake in 375-degree oven for 1 hour, removing foil after 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to set for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice into squares.

Serve topped with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and fresh tomatoes and green onions.

6-8 servings

Blink and you’ll miss it

One of my earliest memories is from the time when my family moved to Carrollton, Ky. —  a small town by any standard, even those of Kentucky, a largely rural state.

I was only 3 years old but I was already attuned to the conversations of adults in my little world. And much of that conversation had to do with leaving the Big City and establishing life in a place where no one locked their doors, neighbors sat on their front porches in the evenings and held conversations across the yard, and sidewalks were an engrossing subject.

Well at least I thought they were pretty important, at the age of 3, because people seemed to remark upon them pretty often.

Sidewalks became a fact of my life as a grew up in Carrollton; they were our roads, our connection to friends, our four-square games modified to two-square, our hopscotch lanes, and drawing palettes.

We lived on the sidewalks and alleys, on the walks to individual houses and on driveways to every home. It was the late 1960s and early ’70s, and we lived outdoors from April through November. It’s where we learned to ride our bikes, shooting from dad to dad — one to launch you, another to catch you, until you mastered breaking — and it’s where we burned the soles of our feet as we went barefoot through our childhoods.

In all my time living this outdoor life upon the sidewalks, though, I never once observed the mechanism that permitted them to be rolled up. For we lived, don’t you know, in a town so small they roll the sidewalks up at night.

According to my father, the place was also populated by little men with torches. If you kept a keen eye, you would see them racing up the streetlights, illuminating each one every night as dusk fell.

And you wonder where I get my imagination.

Yes, Carrollton was small. “If you blink, you’ll miss it,” was another old saw now applied to my little hometown — although even I knew this wasn’t precisely true. There were plenty of places within the county, and surrounding ones too, that were far more easily missed if you tarried too long on the upswing of a blink. Milton, for one, another Ohio River town notable, with its bridge, as a launching point for Madison, Ind. And then Sanders, a place not given to a great many distinguishing characteristics apart from the “beefalo” cattle/buffalo cross a farmer raised there when I was in high school. Yes, we drove out there to look.

Indeed, I spend my childhood looking — looking for the Canadian Garfunkels, small sweet tame little animals my dad said roamed wild in Canada. I kept my nose pressed to the glass as we drove through this exotic foreign country one summer when I was around 9. If I spotted one, Dad said, he’s stop and I could have it for a pet.

This is a capybara, though.
What I more or less envisioned.

(Years later, my parents took another vacation trip to Canada, this time sans kids, who now were more content at summer camp. My gift they brought back for me from this expedition was a tiny funky little toy animal, sewn from sealskin … a Canadian Garfunkel. I cherish it still.)

I looked for trucks being weighed at the perpetually closed Weigh Station along I-71 between Louisville and Carrollton. When finally it was open, one night when we were returning home late from visiting family in Louisville, my parents awakened me to see, knowing how much it would mean to me to finally witness the mysterious Weigh Station in action.

I looked, too, for how the prices on the gasoline stations’ signs were changed, for they certainly were changed, by the 1970s, with some regularity. It gives me a small thrill to this day, to see these signs changed through use of a long pole with the numbers stuck on the end. I lament the advent of electronic signs broadcasting the price per gallon from truck stops along the Interstates — too easy. No mystery involved.

The mysteries of childhood become the world of the mundane for the adult. Yet roll-up sidewalks and gnomes who light streetlights still populate my dreams. I may have grown up in a place so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But it’s the richness of life between these blinks that still fires my imagination — whether or not I ever spot a roadside Garfunkel or beefalo on the roam.

Love and the application of lipstick

Like a good many women, I like to look my best.

Therefore, I spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom each morning, applying lotions, makeup, hair-styling products, and other mysterious unguents in a (more or less successful) attempt to make myself look slightly better than I would in the natural state. Which in my case would be a pale face accompanied by tired freckles, less-than-luminous eyes, and thin, non-luscious lips.

It’s the lip portion of my face that I’d like to discuss today.

My lipstick-wearing has changed and evolved since becoming a mother lo these many years. In my teens and twenties, I slathered on the lip color with abandon, never worrying about its potential effect on others. Sure, I was careful not to unintentionally give cherry-red lips to the men I loved (or at least smooched), but other than that, I lacquered up the lips anytime I felt the kaleidoscope that was my eye-shadow palette at the time — we’re talking The Cyndi-Lauper Eighties here — needed the balance of some glossy hues.

Then came the nineties, and my entry into The Childbearing Years. Once I’d produced an infant, I gave up wearing not only lipstick but also perfume, after experiencing the shock of receiving back perfumy infants when I’d allowed them to be held by over-scented female relatives.

But mainly I kissed my sweet babies so often that there never was time to even think about lipsticking myself. Occasionally I’d dab on some Carmex to ward off winter chappiness, but otherwise my lips were completely au naturale.

Later, with preschoolers around, the high-volume kissing tends to be reciprocated. You love to kiss them, and now they’re kissing you back. Double the smoochiness and lipstick-wearing its pretty much down to zero.

Then there’s the period in the middle years where they don’t seem to want you to kiss them all that much, say from around the age of 9 until about 14. Oh, they’ll put up with it a little, if there is no one important around — that is, one of their friends, someone around their age, or anyone who remotely resembles a human — and you get to sneak in a good-bye kiss now and then. But by and large, during these years, kissing your offspring is over.

Then come the teen years where they seem to crave it — then abhor it on alternating days. But never, ever, kiss them and leave your lipstick behind! That’s a death sentence from a teenager, right there. They will rub their face until it’s raw rather than having something as embarrassing as Mommy Lip Residue on their cheek, forehead, or whatever part you can snag before they flee. But oh how they hug and kiss when they themselves are in need of affirmation and affection! Mama’s need to kiss ’em and show these ingrates how much she loves them? Fuggedabowdit!

The only good thing I can conclude about these many-changing periods in the life of a kissing mother is that is spreads out the cost of purchasing cosmetics. Right now, with kids at the 8, 15, and 17 levels, I’m doing a moderate amount of kissing, and thus only remember to apply lipstick every third day or so. I’ll probably make it until Spring with this tube I’m on right now.

With no female relatives either in the possession, or in the manufacturing phase, of an infant currently, I don’t envision having babies to kiss on the regular, so my lipstick-wearing will doubtless increase.

But whatever the state of my lips may be, I’m happy to report that I am the satisfied owner of a husband who allows me to kiss him whenever the mood strikes, and I don’t remember any complaints as to whether my lips be lacquered or bare. He seems to appreciate any and all affection I throw his way, irrespective of whatever the state of my war paint may be.

This is not a shameless bid for attention

Oh, who am I kidding. This is 2012 and this is the Internet. It’s all about the attention, baby

Today’s my birthday, and in a Facebook World that means everyone you’ve ever gazed for some unspecified minimum of time — both in actual real life and cyberspace — qualifies for Friend Status and thus wishes you Happy Birthday.

This gives you the totally misguided notion that all these people actually remember your birthday, have it marked on their Cute Kitties wall calendar, and count down the days mentally til the day they can joyously wish you feliz cumpleaños, joyeux anniversaire, or 생일.

This year is not a Significant birthday, except in  my own little mind. For it is, dear readers, the last year I can claim a “4” in the tens place, the last year before what I’ve fondly decided to call the F Word enters my life, and the last year before I am required to submit to the regular maintenance indignity perpetrated upon the American public known as the colonoscopy.

Ah, that’s a fun thing to read with your morning coffee, no?

And seriously, I do not mind growing old, for I have my own personal old fart to grow old with. He’s a decade my senior, and like most Baby Boomers, has experienced every nuance of aging long before I ever got there, and so by this time, the whole thing is old hat. Gray hair? Yes, he’s got that in abundance, and he cheerfully reminds me how ever so much grayer it is since the day he married me. Some gray hairs have crept into my coif too, but I like to think of them as cheap highlighter, and pretend that I look this way on purpose.

Today I plan to do what I do best, which is crack jokes and preside as editor of a publication. I’ve been informed there will be an departmental Birthday Lunch and I have indicated I will attend. I am wearing with wild excitement the birthday gift Mr. Gray Hair presented me with this morning, a deliciously blingie  snake rope necklace, and, as always I am clad in cowboy boots.

My children are healthy, I’ve got a roof over my head, and there are doughnuts in the world. Happy birthday to me!