Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Chunky Monkey Challenge

So I come back home from picking up some odds and ends and am greeted by the sight of Clare sprawled on the couch, scraping the final traces of Chunky Monkey ice cream from a pint container, with my latest issue of Self magazine propped on her lap.

Clare looked up when I entered the room and said, “Hey Matts, says here there are 58 ways to burn 100 calories. Who knew?”

I let her know that the process of moving the ice cream spoon from the container to her mouth probably wasn’t one of those 58 ways.

“Clare, if you’re serious about trying to lose weight, you may want to consider exercising,” I said. “I mean, let’s face it – sometimes it’s all I can do to drag you out to do some quick errands.”

“Hey, I go out from time to time. Just today, I walked all the way to the mailbox to post a letter.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Why not come with me to my aerobics class next week?”

“Aerobics! Are you kidding? Matts, you know my coordination is awful; can’t tell my right from my left on a good day. Besides, I hate getting all sweaty.”

“Clare, you’ll do fine. I’ll be there to help guide you along and we’ll have fun. Really!”

“Nope, not gonna’ do it,” said Clare.

Seeing I was getting nowhere fast, I made the most pleading look I could muster and said, “Pleeeze, Clare? Pleeeze, do it for me?”

“You know how much I can’t stand it when you give me that look – all big baby blues just begging with every blink.”

“C’mon Clare, try it.”

With a huge sigh and shoulders sagging, she finally caved. Little did she know what she was in for.

The next week, we arrived at the aerobics studio and I introduced her to our expert instructor, Rachel. She was tickled pink having Clare part of the group and reassured our “newbie” that she would be just fine.

But when Rachel started her warm-up routine, she didn’t expect to hear all the grunting and groaning noises coming from Clare. Matter of fact, the whole class was staring at her!

Things got worse, but there was a surprise in store with this awkward situation. I can’t do it justice here, but you can find out how this story ends when Mary publishes her next book featuring Yours Truly (and of course, Clare). Stay tuned.

Go here to find out how my adventures began.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Tale of a Girl, a Fish, and a Wuss

Not long ago, on a day teeming with rain, Clare and I were channel surfing in a vain attempt to find something to occupy the time. Not having an abundance of patience, I have a tendency to not stay too long on any one channel – especially as most are bogged down with commercials. Clare got weary of me having a thumb like Speed Racer and begged me to stop on a channel, any channel, so we could actually watch something for more than two seconds.

Grumbling, I landed on Food Network, where a chef by the name of Anne Burrell was roasting a whole fish. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen Anne, but let me just say Clare could take a few lessons from her on how to spike hair. But I digress.

As we watched Anne go through the motions of cooking the fish, a brilliant idea (at least I thought) came to my mind: Clare and I would attempt making the same dish!

When I blurted this thought out, Clare looked at me like I was insane. “Matts, we are totally useless in the kitchen,” she said. “I mean you practically live on canned soup and Saltines, and I nuke everything straight from the freezer. We’re better candidates for Anne’s other show, “Worst Cooks in America.” Why, in the world, would you want to do something as goofy as this?”

I told her that it would be fun, a challenge, and would prove to Jed (who was out of town, again) that I did possess some degree of domesticity. She, of course, didn’t believe me, told me she had read somewhere that when you cook a whole fish their eyes explode, and suggested we start with something a little easier – tuna salad, perhaps?

Nope. My mind was made up. We were going to take this on and be Culinary Geniuses! Domestic Divas! The next Master Chefs!

Coincidentally, Jed called right after I had this brainstorm. When I told him what we were about to do, he couldn’t speak, because of laughing so hard. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “A whole fish? You and Clare? Oh, this should be interesting. Just do me a favor and try not to burn the house down.” I let him know we would document everything, taking pictures and all, so he could see the fruits of our success. Take that, Mr. Smarty-Pants!

After printing off the recipe from Anne’s web page, I made a list of ingredients and practically dragged Clare to the car. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we swung by Blue Water Seafood for our fish. They recommended a red snapper.

Now while I was all gung-ho to make this recipe, I drew the line at having to gut the poor thing. So I made sure that was already done, along with all the gills being removed. I tried very hard not to give our fish a name, but failed miserably and ended up calling him "Bob.”

Say hi to Bob:

So there we were, me, Clare with the camera, and Bob, alone in the kitchen -- us eyeing him with trepidation, him giving the two of us a rather glazed look.

While he hung out on the counter, we got the prep out of the way by assembling some herbs, including bay leaves, slicing a lemon, smashing some garlic cloves and measuring out some white wine. Actually, I did most of the prep, while Clare preferred sipping the wine and taking the occasional picture.

Then I took a deep breath and started removing Bob’s fins. Any idea how sharp snapper fins are? They’re like little razors! I only realized when I knicked myself a couple of times when I started handling the sliced lemon. More than a few unladylike words came from my lips. After the de-finning was done, I needed to make a few small slits in his skin on both sides.

Never having worked with a whole fish before, and especially a red snapper, I just figured I would make three quick cuts with my chef's knife and move on to the next step. Ummm, not so fast. His skin was really tough! I practically had to make a stabbing motion to pierce his hide [it was at this point that Clare started singing the theme music from “Psycho”]. With the slits finally completed, I was feeling a bit braver and thought I would part his fish lips to see inside his mouth.

Clare had wandered out of the kitchen at this point, so wasn’t there when I discovered red snappers have TEETH! They have a TONGUE! This was not something I expected.

I yelled for Clare to get her butt back in the kitchen. As soon as she saw Bob’s open mouth, she started making all kinds of squealing girl noises. “I. Will. NOT. Eat. This!” said she. “You can’t make me. No how. No way. And you can take your own damn pictures from this point on!” And with that, she stomped out of the kitchen like the bratty three-year old she can sometimes be. Wuss!

But I would not be deterred. It was now a battle between me and Bob. After stuffing him with some herbs and lemon, I gently placed him on a lined baking sheet, covered Bob with more herbs, lemon slices and smashed garlic cloves. I poured some white wine that Clare hadn’t managed to guzzle over everything, popped him into the oven, and set the timer.

When Bob's allotted roasting time was done, I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath before opening the oven. I reached in and, sure enough, his eyeballs had popped. I let out little whimpers, but quickly collected myself. Damn if I was going to let Clare see me have a case of the vapors!

I needed to move Bob from the baking sheet onto a cutting board. However, Bob was stuck because his upper fish lip was fused to the foil! After some tugging, he finally came loose, minus part of his lip.

See what I mean about the teeth and tongue?

My little whimpers started again, but I managed to fillet the poor thing and remove the bones, then busied myself getting the rest of the meal finished up and on a plate.

Perhaps not the most appealing plate that was ever composed, but I did it! I cooked a whole fish! When I let out a loud “Boo-Yah!”, Clare stuck her head in the kitchen to see what was going on.

I proudly, oh so proudly, pointed to the plate for her to admire my handiwork. She said it was the saddest looking fish specimen she had ever seen, still refused to taste it, and reached in the freezer for a frozen dinner to throw in the microwave.

After all the drama, I have to admit having rather mixed feelings about picking up my fork for the first mouthful. But, I took the plunge and...well, Bob tasted pretty good! Actually better than pretty good.

When I shared all this with Jed, he was impressed and suggested I try some other culinary challenges. Hmmm, not a bad idea. Now I just need to keep Clare from hiding the remote.

Go here to find out what other trouble I've gotten myself into.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Temporary Loss of Marbles

Can I just tell you how wonderful it's been to have Jed home?. I know he loves his work, and his clients adore him, but call me selfish – I just love waking up each morning next to that man!

Our trip to Brevard was so much fun. Between checking out the street festival, eating amazing food, and looking at all the white squirrel souvenirs, we came home pretty tuckered out. But considering how things went the last time I was there with Clare, well, I certainly prefer coming home tired than scared witless.

See, here’s what happened:

Remember me telling you about how Clare and I witnessed a murder at the waterfalls? Well, a few days later, after reporting the incident to the police, we decided to take our minds off of the incident by doing a little retail therapy. I figured a trip to Brevard would do the trick, because of all the cute shops there, not to mention some fabulous restaurants.

Clare has never been one to shy away from the prospect of eating out (kinda’ reminds me of Mary in that regard), so I didn’t have to twist her arm to come along. I wish I could tell you that we had a genteel, ladies-who-lunch type of meal, but…we each scarfed down a huge helping of quiche, plus all the sides. Our server must have thought we hadn’t eaten in weeks.

Anyhow, as we left the restaurant I remembered we probably would need to put more time on the parking meter. Just as I was putting in the quarter, I looked up and froze. There, right down the street, was the guy we saw at the falls! I would recognize that tattoo anywhere.

When I told Clare, I thought she was going to have a case of the vapors right there on the sidewalk. I hustled her butt into the car and tried to figure out what to do. It seemed the best thing would be to call the police, which I did, all the while trying to keep Clare from getting her panties in a twist. Unfortunately, because we were a little distance away from the guy, I couldn’t give them a detailed description of what he looked like, except recognizing the tattoo. The dispatcher told me they would try to have an officer swing by soon, but I wasn’t feeling too confident he would be able to find the guy with only a tattoo to go on.

That’s when, at least if you ask Clare, I temporarily lost my marbles, because I decided to go and get a closer look at him. Okay, maybe not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, and I knew Jed would have a cow when he found out (which he did), but for love of Mike, he was right there!

I wrapped a scarf around my head, pulled up my hoodie, got out of the car, and proceeded down the street. When I got right up next to him, I “accidentally” stumbled into him and got a good look at his face. Let me just pause for a moment to say what an ugly, mean looking guy this was. Really, his face wasn’t one that even his mother could love.

After growling at me for being so clumsy, he started walking away and got picked up by someone driving a gray truck. Just as he was out of sight, a police cruiser swung by and I waved it down. Between the physical description and the license plate number I managed to memorize, the officer took off like a shot to track Tattoo Guy down.

Needless to say, when I finally got back into the car, Clare was way past having vapors and was as close to hysterical as I’ve ever seen her. She finally calmed herself down long enough to read me the riot act for being so nuts to pull a stunt like that. To say the “air was blue” would be an understatement (I must say though, that girl can get real creative stringing cuss words together). Guess I kinda’ deserved it, but a girl’s gotta’ do whatta’ girl’s gotta do.

We did eventually find out that the police caught the guy, so hopefully there’ll be no chance for me to do something so bone-headed again. But now you can hopefully understand why I have mixed feelings about the town of Brevard (but I will say, their quiche is to die for!). Go here to find out how my adventure began.