Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Book Club Adventures

Last night was the latest Lit Chicks meeting, and for our dinner theme we were tasked with bringing food that was associated with a happy memory. One of my happiest memory foods is chicken cordon bleu. I have 2 great memories of it.

1. When I was 15, I went to Europe for 3 weeks with the Girl Scouts. On the Germany leg of our trip, we took a trip to see a portion of the Berlin Wall that was still standing. (This was 1991) It was July, it was warm, and we had to do a LOT of walking to get out to where the wall was. On our way back, we were all hot and tired and wanted to just find someplace to get a cold drink and eat something. So we happened upon a little cafe out there in the middle of nowhere and we decided to go into the courtyard. The people who owned it came out and they did not speak English, and we did not speak German. So they took the whole group of us into the kitchen, opened up the freezer, and we all pointed to the same thing, which they prepared. And it turned out to be chicken cordon bleu. And it was delicious!

2. When I was living in Arkansas, The General came to visit me for Columbus Day. I wanted to cook him a really special dinner for his last night there, and I'm not sure why, but chicken cordon bleu popped into my head. I came up with my own way of putting it altogether and frying it up, and I have to say, it was DELICIOUS. And after dinner, he proposed. :-) Awwww... I feel all smiley and mushy just thinking about it.

So, my plan was that after work (I was working with one of my high school students yesterday until 5pm) I would go to the grocery store and buy the little frozen chicken cordon bleus. The General and I have been eating them for a long time and we love them--although at something crazy like 20 points, they are no longer on our menu selection. But we've never had any trouble buying them.

Well, apparently in Alexandria, they are unavailable. I went to three different grocery stores and the closest I came up with was chicken stuffed with broccoli and cheese. Not going to do it. So I stopped and thought for a minute and decided to improvise and make a chicken cordon bleu casserole. The idea kind of came at me from my mother-in-law, who when I hosted a book club meeting here at my house last fall taught me a chicken casserole recipe that was very good. So I decided I'd make a go of it with chicken cordon bleu.

I picked up a package of those little chicken pieces that you can buy already cooked. I got the honey roasted chicken for that. Then I got 2 packages of sliced swiss cheese, a ham steak, 2 cans of Healthy Request cream of chicken soup, and a bag of medium width No Yolk egg noodles.

I went back to Judy's, cooked up the noodles, threw in everything except one package of cheese which I actually used to cover the whole thing and baked it at 375 for 20 minutes. It was smelling darned good.

Meanwhile, Judy had baked The Cake That Ate Washington. She had gotten the recipe from the Sweet Potato Queens book and this thing was MASSIVE. Four layers, with a filling that consisted of cream cheese, Cool Whip, peanut butter cups, and sweetened condensed milk. We were so nervous about it that she stuck some skewers in it to keep it from falling over. We gingerly made our way to the car and then the fun began.

I have a GPS for the car. She speaks with a proper British accent. Her name is Jane, and she does not like to be disobeyed. I fear her, if I'm being honest.

Well, Jane was unhappy. She'd been stashed in the glove compartment for approximately 2 months, as I hadn't had any new clients and I'd known where book club was, and I hadn't required her services. She intended to teach me a lesson.

So I figured to get from Alexandria to Arlington, we should probably get on 395, but I didn't want to take Van Dorn with all the potholes and traffic lights. I was envisioning this cake splattering all over my dashboard. So I made my way for the Beltway, thinking we could take it to 395 and it would be a little less apt to cause us problems.

Jane did not like this. Jane wanted us to take the Beltway in the other direction. I decided maybe she knew a shortcut, so I would heed her sage advice. We got up into Alexandria towards Old Town, and she told us to take the exit right, where the highway splits into Express and Local lanes. I did so. Once we got over there, she told us to "Bear Left". Well, by bearing left, what she actually meant was keep right. It was a test to see how much power she could lord over us. Because, you see, when I bore left, it shot me back onto the main part of the highway, and in short order, I was traversing the new Wilson Bridge (which is lovely, by the way, just not what I wanted to see at that point).

I could hear Jane shaking her head and chuckling inside her plastic case. By now, we were heading for parts unknown in Maryland, Judy clutching a cake, the chicken cordon bleu casserole smelling heavenly in the back seat, me screaming at Jane, "WTF?! I'm putting the eye on you!" Because you see, I do not like to be late. Ever. I am always early. This drives my sister and husband crazy, because I also do not like to be the first one at our destination and so I sit outside in the car until 'someone else goes in first'. This also saves me the embarrassment of being in the wrong place--if someone I know goes in, then I know I'm in the right spot.

Anyway, this is all to say that fortunately we had left early. Because I can't be late. My sister once was reading Mapquest directions to go to Reston pre-Jane and sent us to Dulles Airport. We showed up at book club 45 minutes late. I was having an absolute panic attack. I was determined that this was not going to happen.

However, there was the small matter of us actually getting back to Arlington. Jane suggested we take 295. We had no choice but to follow her sage advice. We went past Bolling AFB, site of the General's former place of employment. I waved at it. We were heading north, on a collision course with Maryland. And mind you, on account of the cake, I'd been the least popular person on the Beltway, driving a stately 45MPH. I was at this point pushing the needle to 55.

Then Jane dumped us out on 395 and shot us straight through the District. May I just say, the Capitol is lovely in the evening, as are the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. We got off the highway and took a bunch of meandering roads around back into Virginia, and then she spit us off on Spout Run Parkway, which I have affectionately dubbed Serial Killer Highway as it's dark, there are tons of trees and it looks like the perfect place to hide bodies. The road is also very twisty, and I suspect that Jane was aware we were trying to keep the cake upright. I should also say that we were blasting the air conditioning to keep from the cake from melting, and we were both freezing.

In any event, very shortly, we were at Carrie's house, and someone had graciously left us a spot right in front of her house. Fortunately, I am a champion parallel parker, amongst my other great talents, so I pulled in and extricated my sister and the cake from the front seat before getting the casserole and going inside.

I think we set a new landspeed record: we left Alexandria at 6:50 and arrived in Arlington at 7:26. And we were only about the 4th or 5th people there.

But now, I'm gunning for Jane. She will be punished. Well, probably not because next time I'll probably go to book club via Tennessee.

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Talmadge Gleck said...

What you need is one of those "Be patient - CAKE ON BOARD" magnetic signs like my wife has.

I would love a GPS for nothing more than the novelty of it. I almost got my son one for Christmas, but realized it would be money wasted; that thing would sit on the floorboard, get buried beneath junk and gawd knows what, and then somebody would get in and crush it.

I couldn't stand an automated voice backseat-driving me, not even in Norfolk, Va.