Sunday, June 28, 2009

48 Hours Are Over!

My dad passed the critical 48 hour mark at 3:00 this afternoon. And at 2:30, he was transferred out of the ICU and into a regular cardiac care ward! Great news! (Also great news, Michael and Lucas and Dottie arrived safe and sound this afternoon after a grueling car trip!)

He is feeling VERY feisty and he's very confused, which is making for an interesting combination today. He called Judy and I both into ICU this morning to make sure we knew about his will, made sure we wouldn't fight over his assets, and made sure that certain provisions were made despite the fact that his will stipulates we get everything 50/50. He was sure he was going to die. I tried to convince him that he was going to be just fine, but he didn't believe me and after a point I realized that it was making him more aggravated to try and argue with him than to just agree to whatever he said.

He kept saying that he was so confused and he didn't know what day it was or what time it was. I told him several times it was Sunday at noon, but he kept trying to find his watch. He demanded to have his checkbook, even though it's at home at the moment. I promised to bring it back with me on Wednesday, so Tuesday I'll spend the day at home with his lengthy list of demands, getting things he wants from the house.

When he got moved over, he was very unhappy in his new bed. The sheets and blankets were tucked in and he asked me to please untape his toes. He was furious that the nurses had taped his toes together. He kicked the blankets off, but we couldn't find any tape on them (obviously). So he kicked me out and Judy went in, and he demanded to know why they had tied his feet together! Eventually they just uncovered his feet and pulled the sheets out from under the mattress and he felt better. Until the doctor came in and he asked the doctor, "How much longer do I have to put up with this bullshit?" "What bullshit is that, George?" "Sitting in this hospital, I want to go home."

They tried explaining that he had a major incident and major surgery and he needs a lot of recovery time, but he didn't want to hear it. He is supremely unhappy today. I think it's probably a very good sign. We left around 5pm to try and give him time to rest. Tomorrow Lucas will stay here with the babies and Judy, Michael, and I will all return to the hospital for some quiet visits. The new ward that he's on is right next to a family lounge, which is WAY NICER than the waiting room for ICU, so I'm excited to have a new place to relax and hang out.

As I said, I'll be in Star Lake on Tuesday and would love to see anyone and everyone who wants to come visit. I'll be bringing Leah with me, so she can meet her NY relatives :-)

Still not sure what will happen the rest of the summer. I'm inclined to think I'm on an extended vacation up here, but of course I have a lot to do at home too, so we're going to have to see what's what.

That's all for tonight! I'm thrilled Dad's doing so much better, but I hope he'll continue to allow his body to heal (he's convinced his muscles have all atrophied already!).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dad Update 6/27

Today was my dad's first full day post-surgery. I had a largely sleepless night--sleeping about 4 hours--and called over to the ICU twice to get status reports from VERY patient nurses. He was stable throughout the evening and they had started weaning him from the various machines that were keeping him alive. They expected by mid-morning to make even more changes.

I arrived at the hospital around 12:30, and they wouldn't let me in right away as they were removing some of the gear. Most notably, the balloon pump that they'd installed to beat his heart for him was removed this morning. As you can imagine, this is an excellent sign. I finally got in just after 1:00. I was lucky there were some lovely women in the waiting room with me who agreed to watch Leah while I went in to see Daddy. He was very anxious about me coming in, he was afraid that I would be scared to see him that way. When I came around the corner, I saw his feet moving, and I about lost it. I have never been happier in my life than to see him moving his feet today. There have been 3 days in my life I considered my best days ever, and one of them was today. I got all misty eyed.

The nurse welcomed me in and I went over to him and noticed that his eyes were open. I said, "Hi Daddy" and he tried to smile around the breathing tube. I sat down and held his hand and talked to him a little bit, but mostly we just sat there quietly, our hands tightly holding onto each other.

After a while, he started printing on my palm. I explained that Judy had gone out to Star Lake with Beth to do some things at the house and get his car, and she'd be over as soon as she could. He asked about my brother, who was running a bit late, so after about an hour, I went out to find him. My uncle and cousin Hailey had just arrived, and I brought them back to the visiting room and took them in to see him. The first thing he said to his brother was, "Joe, I thought I had bought the farm. I didn't think i was going to make it." Since there is a 2 person visitor limit, I left and went back to Leah who had, of course, charmed the socks off everyone sitting around waiting for their loved ones.

Hailey came back a while later and said the nurse would let me come in too and so we were all there for a good while, but around 3:30, Daddy started getting REALLY agitated about his breathing tube. The nurse suggested we leave for a while and they gave him an extra dose of something to sleep and some pain medication. My uncle took care of Leah while I went and got my first real meal of the day in the cafeteria.

I got back and we were going to go in, but they decided to pull the ventilator tube out of Daddy's throat. Once that was done, they called us back in and he was able to speak to us and started drinking water and eating ice chips, which he declared was the best thing he'd ever tasted and that he could actually feel the cool water pulsing through his veins.

We chatted a bit, and finally my sister and Beth arrived and my uncle and cousin left. I gave Judy and Beth time with Daddy since I'd had the whole day, but it was such a sweet, sweet moment to be able to speak with him, for him to squeeze my hand back. I took Leah in with me at the end of the day and he got to see her for the first time since she was 6 days old. I held her over him and he said, "What a beautiful baby!" and grinned. So I put her on the bed next to his hand and he stroked her hair and said, "Is that my baby?" and I said, "yes, Daddy, that's her" and of course started bawling all over again.

On the medical side, his cardiac output is really excellent. His blood pressure seems a little bit low, but they are not worried about it, he's doing very well. He's able to breathe on his own, and his heart looks good and that's the main thing.

He's in a lot of pain, but is off the dopamine drip and just getting shots of pain medication in his IV as he requests it. He's being very stoic, but I've told him not to suffer unnecessarily because it's going to get worse before it get's better. Beth says that tomorrow is going to be a real challenging day for him--they will be working with him to start coughing and getting his lungs really going so that he doesn't develop pneumonia, and possibly to have him sit up some. They are hoping to transfer him out of ICU tomorrow--this hinges more on if they have a free bed than if he does well, they expect he will be well enough to go but might not have a room for him. As you know, if all goes well at the end of tomorrow, the 48 hours that was most crucial will have passed.

I will be coming to Star Lake early this week--Monday or Tuesday possibly to check in on the house and see what all I might need to pick up for him. Would love to see anyone who is around. I can't say when I'll be there, but feel free to call the house and check up to see if I'm there. We've also had his mail forwarded, so if you want to send him a card, it will reach him here at Beth's once he comes back to recover.

That's all from here for now. I'll be back tomorrow with another update. Thanks all for the prayers, and please keep them coming--he's going to start the real work now and will need them!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Update on my Dad

Greetings from New York State! Surprising as it is, I am in northern NY, so far north the signs are in French and English. Why? My dad is in bad shape.

Wednesday night he woke up and couldn't breathe. He wound up calling 911 and going to the emergency room. They diagnosed him with a heart condition and wound up sending him to Plattsburgh, where he could be more accurately diagnosed. While there, they thought he had contracted an infection and would need a valve replacement. Thursday, they scheduled a cardiac catheterization to determine the full extent of the damage. It was then determined the damage was much more serious and that my dad would need surgery today instead of Monday as originally planned.

I spoke to him very briefly last night, as he was having trouble breathing again, and so he just had time to say that he was going in at 7am this morning. Judy and I took the ferry over to Burlington this morning and arrived at the hospital around 9:00am. We finally got where we needed to be and waited and waited. We were told the surgery would be over by 12:00 at the latest. Unfortunately, there was a lot more damage to his heart than we thought, and he didn't get out of surgery until nearly 3:00 this afternoon.

We met with the cardiac surgeon afterwards. He explained that my dad has been having a series of small heart attacks for the last month, and had a BIG one on Wednesday. This morning, he started having more trouble with his heart, and they were forced to get in there and start moving much more seriously. Due to the damage, a portion of his heart went ischemic, or the muscles were dying off. He needed a triple bypass. His mitral valve was replaced and a balloon pump was inserted to start helping his heart beat regularly and repair some of the damaged muscle.

Due to the lack of oxygen he's been getting lately, his kidneys started to fail. It is hopeful that this will reverse itself now that his heart is pumping again.

We did get to see him briefly this afternoon, but it was very, very hard. He is in a medically induced coma to let his body try to get used to all the new equipment and to recover a bit. They hope to bring him out of it in the morning. He is breathing on a ventilator at the moment, but they don't expect he'll need it after tonight. The doctors and nurses say he is doing "phenomenally" but the next 48 hours are critical and will tell us what we need to know about his prospects.

We will go back tomorrow morning to see him and see how he is doing. Among other things, we cannot find his glasses or his bridge, and I know he will desperately want both. He made a list of things he wanted from home, but I doubt he'll be needing deodorant or a short sleeved shirt any time soon. In the mean time, I'm attempting to find someone to house sit at the house on Wednesday for our air conditioning repair so that Michael can come north to be with me, and Lucas with Judy.

I will probably go to Star Lake early next week. My uncle is coming to visit tomorrow for the afternoon, which I am greatly looking forward to. I will post another update tomorrow evening. All we need right now is prayers. Dad's girlfriend Beth is taking good care of us. I can't stop crying, so please don't call me on the phone--I'm just not able to take calls at this time. I will call people as I can. Thank you for understanding. I'll be back tomorrow with more information!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Janet Evanovich and the Womb on Wheels

So, yesterday was it, the big day, the day I've been waiting for since the end of April when I found out Janet Evanovich was going to do book signings and she was coming to New Jersey. It only got better when I posted to the blog asking if anyone wanted to go to New Jersey with me, and not only did Melissa respond, but Russell and Amy said they'd like to come up from Savannah for the occasion! PARTY!

So at 9am yesterday, we met up with Melissa in the commuter lot on 123 and headed to New Jersey. The email we got from Janet's site said there'd be a big street festival in New Jersey to kick off the book's release, complete with a costume contest (this turned out to be a bit of a bust--nothing was really going on while we were there, although we won free drinks from Chick Fil A). We went back and forth--I immediately knew that I was going to dress Leah up as Lula, but finally we all decided to dress up--Melissa as Stephanie, me as Connie, and Amy as Mrs. Plum. I thought we all looked great! Melissa volunteered to drive and for her blue Vue to be the vehicle of the day, so we crammed in and off we went! Russell was excited because he got to see a new state--he'd never been to New Jersey before.

We made good time. We stopped once at a rest area to use the bathroom and get some provisions and still got to New Jersey at 12:30. We had a little bit of a challenge finding the B&N, getting a wee bit lost along the way (apparently I drained the iPhone's battery playing Tetris, so we weren't able to get directions as clearly as we might have), but finally found it, wonder of wonders, next to a Wegman's and... *drum roll* a CHRISTMAS TREE SHOP!!!!!!!!! Wahoo! Seriously, the shopping area was huge. We finally got out of the car and everyone hit the ground running for the bathroom--apparently it's not a good idea to get big drinks when you're going to be stuck in the car for a while :-) Then we went and bought our books--we cleaned them out! Well, not really, but we did buy a LOT of books. Afterwards, the clerk sent us outside to get our wristbands. We were #447-450 in line.

We headed over to Cheeburger Cheeburger for lunch instead of going into Philadelphia for a trip to the Dining Car, as planned. I'd never been there, but it was SO good. I had a grilled portabella melt, and it was amazing. On good Jersey rye bread. YUM. We got extra onion rings, which were delicious and then we decided to dress Leah up in her Lula costume. Melissa had borrowed donuts and fried chicken toys from her school, and we had a Cutielicious onesie from my mom, and Melissa got her a pimp hat and pants and cuffs and my sister contributed pants as well. Leah looked SO Lula by the time we were done, it was awesome.

Then we did some wandering and shopping for a while--hit the Christmas Tree Shop, went to Wegman's (their raspberry cupcakes are AWESOME!!!!!), and then decided to go back to B&N to see what was going on. We met Mr. Cluck and then went into the store. They'd broken out a bunch of helium balloons, and I decided I wanted to get a couple for Leah. I went over to a young woman with a pile of balloons and she said hello and started asking about the baby. She said, "What number are you?" and I said, "448" and she said, "Well, I hate it that you'd have to wait that whole time with a baby. Tell you what, I want you to go up to the front of the line and tell them that Alex said it was OK for you guys to go first--we're letting babies and people with disabilities go ahead."

Well, alrighty then, I thought! GREAT news! So I went towards where she pointed, thinking B&N has the nicest employees ever. Melissa said something about Janet's daughter and I said, "Who's Janet's daughter?" and Melissa said, "You were just talking to her!" Yes, folks, Alex is Janet's daughter and I didn't even know it!!!!! *Sigh* :-) But it was cool that she was so awesome, and I got balloons for Leah.

So we went up and stood where Janet was coming out and then I thought we should probably figure out where to stand to get in the right place to have the books actually signed and I went up to the B&N line manager and told her Alex said we could cut the line with the baby and where should we stand? She gave me directions, I rounded up our crew, and we stood. They let the line open for the first 50, and I will say, I agreed with the fact that the people who got there first should have gone ahead of us. After those 50 went through, they sent us through--it was the 4 of us and one other lady in a wheelchair. It was AWESOME.

Alex came back through the line and started asking Ranger or Morelli? I said, "Please, ask your mom to write 300 pages of Stephanie and Ranger, just once, no detail too small, and then Morelli forever." She said, "Sounds like you're a Ranger girl!" and handed me an "I love Ranger pin". I wore it proudly, despite also being a Morelli girl. I think Amy and Melissa got Morelli pins and Russell and I got Ranger pins :-) FUN!

Then we were up! There was an assistant taking cameras and pictures, and so I stepped up and gave him my camera. Then I went to stand with Janet, who was signing my books. She wasn't doing personalizations, which gave her a chance to do pictures, and I'd have rather had the pictures, honestly. Unfortunately, coming face to face with your favorite author tends to render you speechless and I could think of NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, to say to her. And I was buying a good number of books, so it's not like I didn't have time. My mind drew a complete blank. She admired Leah a bit and finally I came up with, "Thank you for writing these books, they've brought me hours of joy" like a dumbass.

Because they'd said we could take a group picture afterwards, I stood to the side while Melissa got her book signed and then Janet turned to me and asked if she could have Leah. :-) She said, "I want one of those!" and I said, "Sorry, it took me too long to get this one." She said, "Oh, I can tell she was worth the wait!"

Then Russell and Amy went and then we all went back and got a group picture taken together. (Leah had long since lost the Lula gear--it was HOT in the store and we were all sweating.)

Each time I stepped forward with Leah, you could hear a bunch of sighs and squeals! Leah was eating it up. She was smiling like a champion. And then it was time to head back south. We loaded up the balloons, but soon it became clear that they had a mind of their own, so we decided to let the helium out and before long, Amy was huffing helium and saying, "I love you, Russell" and giggling in a helium voice. It was hilarious. Then Russell got in on the action, and I thought he sounded just a little bit gay with the helium voice, so I told him, "Say you love your J. Crew sweater" and Melissa amended it to, "Say you love your pink sweater from J. Crew." When he said it, I thought we were all going to fall out of the car laughing. The helium ran out WAY too quickly.

Russell requested we stop for Roy Rogers for dinner, so we hit a rest area with a RR and had some grub. Leah was starting to get VERY angry, so Melissa and I fed her and then Amy and I strapped her back in the car and we got back on the highway.

In no time flat, the screaming began. And continued unabated until finally we decided to pull into the next rest area and I would try to calm her down. I walked her around for a bit and then we settled into the car, her snuggled into my chest. Melissa offered to drive slowly around a bit to get the feel of the road back into her, and I said something to the effect that I had a noisemaker at home that plays a heartbeat, which babies find very soothing as it reminds them of being in the womb and they feel secure and snuggly. I asked her if she had a heartbeat on her iPhone and she found a free app for it, but it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do. Then she logged on and found a "baby soothing app" and it was only 99 cents, so she decided to download it. It had a heartbeat sound, so she plugged the phone into her car's sound system and soon we were listening to "ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump". Melissa put the car in gear, and started slowly circling the parking lot, and we were all giggling quietly, when I said, "I feel like we're being stalked by the tell-tale heart" and we all busted out laughing. There was a dude standing by his car in the parking lot and we were driving in circles around him with the heartbeat blaring. Melissa said, "Well, we've got a womb on wheels!" and we all started dying laughing again. It was HILARIOUS. I was crying I was laughing so hard, and I was not alone. So we start making all these heart jokes--I told Leah (who was snoring happily away against me) that she'd better be a cardiologist. We came up with every song we could think of that had the word "heart" in the title.

Finally, Leah was settled enough that we put her back in the carseat and headed down the road, heartbeat blaring, and the 4 of us 'adults' cackling like crazy. We got to the Ft. McHenry tunnel toll booths, and I told Melissa to crank the stereo as she paid. We were all dying laughing again, but the attendant didn't do anything. DISAPPOINTING!

Finally we made it to Virginia. The Beltway was clogged, so Melissa made a crack about clogged arteries and maybe we needed to get a bypass. Then Russell turned on his video camera to film us on the Wilson Bridge and at the mixing bowl and said into the microphone, "Here we are on the DC Beltway. We've been listening to a heartbeat for the last 200 miles to try to keep Leah calm" and I interjected, "But it was not 'in vein' because she's stayed asleep." and we all just totally lost it. Completely and totally lost it. The womb on wheels was rocking from the 4 of us just busting a gut laughing. How the baby did not wake up, I do not know. Seriously. We were howling, the tears flowing, I thought we might even drive off the road.

Well, all good things must come to an end, and eventually we hit Woodbridge and parted ways leaving the Womb on Wheels behind, and of course, Leah woke up and started SCREAMING without the heartbeat on. She screamed most of the way back to the 'burg, but I think it was just some serious tired, because we got home, I fed her, and I put her to bed, and she was out like a light in about 2 minutes and slept 8 solid hours. (For which I was very, very thankful)

It was a WONDERFUL trip, the most fun I've had in FOREVER on the road. I'm so glad Melissa, Russell and Amy made it and we had as much fun as we did. As Russell said on his Facebook this morning, "I'd do it again 'in a heartbeat'."

Excuse my while I go dry my tears and start reading. I've got Fingerlickin' Fifteen to get through :-)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

80 Plates: East Meets West

Today's 80 Plates edition combines two rather different countries: Thailand and Canada. As my dad once said, "Nothing quite goes with Thailand like Canada." (OK, this is not strictly speaking true. What he DID say, and I swear to God this IS true was, "And if Columbus had sailed East, he'd have discovered Israel.")

This weekend was supposed to be Leah-free and it was until last night. I was feeling very cook-ish/cook-y? and wanted to do something so I decided to return to 80 Plates and knock out a couple of more countries. We flipped through the Around the World in 450 Recipes and hit on Thailand's barbeque chicken. Whether or not it's true, the book claims:

Barbecued chicken is served almost everywhere in Thailand, from portable roadside stalls to sports stadiums and beaches.

Now recently, we've had a TON of barbecue chicken. Michael's mom and dad made some while we were in Rhode Island and the other night while we were visiting baby Kai, Elizabeth and Jesse grilled chicken as well. It has long been a source of unhappiness within me that I am not a great griller. Oh, I can make a burger or a hot dog or a brat, but beyond that, I tend to BURN. My mother-in-law said, "Cook it over low heat for a long time" but my grill is evil and difficult to regulate heat-wise. But I was damned determined that I was going to grill some chicken and it was going to come out well.

I did modify the recipe just slightly: it called for a whole chicken cut apart ( a) I have no interest in doing this and b) we have all agreed that none of us likes bones in our chicken so I went with boneless skinless breasts) and it called for ginger (my sister is allergic). Oh, and I have no idea what palm sugar is, so I used some Sugar in the Raw that my uncle left here after his visit in November. Otherwise, I stuck to what the recipe said to do.

So this was basically a pretty easy recipe to follow! However, I did find one ingredient that my nifty knife does not like to chop: lemon grass! I really had to do battle with it. I slit it lengthwise first and then made chops into little half circles, but I was not going to chop it up beyond that. Still, I think it looked pretty respectable considering.

I smashed up garlic and chopped shallots, although the recipe does not give any instructions on what to actually do with either ingredient, it just says to add them. After combining all of that in a large bowl, I added the sugar and then turned my attention to putting together the liquid part of the marinade.

One of the things I LOVE about doing this is I am getting to use up the bottles of sauce that I might have had use for a tablespoon of here and there. In this case, I got to use up 2 tablespoons of fish sauce! I have no idea what to do with fish sauce, but I do know that when we continue cooking around Asia, I've got it on hand to use, and I'm down to about 1/2 a bottle! Hooray! I added that to coconut milk and soy sauce and it made this rather luxurious looking coffee colored sauce. And I have to say, it smelled pretty good. Then I dumped it over the fresh savories and stirred it altogether.

All that was left was to pour it over the chicken and refrigerate overnight. I was really, really excited about this dish because it smelled AMAZING! It was going to be torture to wait for lunch, but fortunately Leah was back to keep us busy! I will say, also that when I look at the picture in the cookbook, the marinade looks almost smooth, so I wonder if they put everything in a food processor to put it together. But I kind of liked getting in there with my knife and just slicing and dicing, and I don't think it affected the recipe in the least.

Ok, so this morning dawned bright and clear and I decided I was also going to take the opportunity to make nanaimo bars. This was mainly because having read up on the matter, I knew how rich the bars were going to be, and I could send them home with Judy and Lucas and not worry about totally trashing my diet.

While Lesley was here, she mentioned that as far as she knew there wasn't really a typical Canadian dish (I feel the same about American cuisine, so I feel her pain). We never got around to cooking anything--mostly because we were too busy--so I went on Wikipedia to the national dish list and looked up Canada and there were nanaimo bars as one of several of Canada's national foods.

This excited me because in A Mighty Wind, Mickey says she won't perform alone without Mitch and that she's going to go back to her hotel with a pan of nanaimo bars. I always wondered what they were, and now I know! So this ties in nicely with Lesley's visit, but also with the recent Christopher Guest concert. As Hannibal Smith used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

So luckily for me, Wikipedia had a link to the city of Nanaimo's website which has the award winning recipe for nanaimo bars. Apparently in 1986, there was a "prepare the best nanaimo bars ever!" contest and Mrs. Joyce Hardcastle emerged the clear winner with her recipe, which is now the official nanaimo bar recipe. You can find it here. The basic idea is a ton of butter, cream, chocolate, and sugar. What could be better than that?!

I was 'helped' in today's adventure by my niece, Dot. Here she is wielding her spatula.

Shortly after this picture was taken, she put her foot into her mother's coffee mug and spilled coffee all over the place and then attempted to dive head first into the ingredients.

So, since the bars are made in layers, you obviously start with the bottom layer first. This calls for melting butter, sugar, and cocoa together in double boiler. I don't own a double boiler, I just make my own with a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water. This is effective, doesn't require any additional equipment, and I've found you can use either ceramic or metal bowls with the same result. When all was said and done, it looked like this:

While that was melting, I got out my food processor. The recipe called for 1/2 cup of finely chopped almonds. Kind of akin to my processing the heck out of the cottage cheese for the blintzes, I knew I'd have to be one step shy of almond butter to suit my sister, who does not like nuts. The food processor does a great job of pulverizing the little suckers. I put in 3/4 of a cup of slivered almonds and got back just over a half cup of chopped almonds.

At this point, the chocolate mixture had cooled just slightly and I was able to add the egg. I didn't want to put the egg directly into the hot chocolate mixture because I didn't want to have hot scrambled eggs in our bars. I did it just a little bit at a time and stirred the heck out of it between additions and it came out just fine.

Then I added in graham cracker crumbs, the almonds, and coconut. It made me think of an Almond Joy bar on steroids. I pressed the entire thing into an 8 inch round cake pan, since I couldn't find my 8 inch square pan anywhere.

That done, we turned our attention to layer two. This very easily called for beating together butter, heavy cream, vanilla custard powder (I used pudding mix, I couldn't find custard powder in my local store--but when Wegman's opens next week, I bet I'll be able to locate it!), and confectioner's sugar. I couldn't help it, I had to try just a bit of it, one little lick. I told my sister, "Those crazy Canadian bastards know their fillings!" and she took a taste and agreed. We decided to let Dot help us spread the filling over the crust.

She did a pretty good job, too!

That done, we turned our attention to layer three, using a double boiler again to melt together semi-sweet chocolate and butter. Dot got mad that we wouldn't let her near the hot stove, so we gave her a pan of her own and some water and a spoon to have fun with. I think she's a natural chef. (Please ignore my dirty floor--I'm thinking I'll be shamed into washing it in preparation for Evanovich Fest 2009, taking place this weekend.)

Once the chocolate melted together, we let it cool just a bit, enough not to liquify the butter and sugar layer and then I spread it over the top of the bars. It looked amazing. I could only imagine what it was going to taste like! But it'd have to wait for after the BBQ, so I put the bars in the fridge reluctantly and turned my attention back to Thailand.

Woman versus Grill in the epic battle for supremacy. Who will reign supreme!? I felt like I had it regulated pretty nicely, honestly, but then the burners on the sides went out when I turned them too low, so I had to restart the entire operation midway through the cooking process.


The recipe did give me the option for the coward's way out using the oven to bake it, but I GRILLED it. I am a GRILLER. I GRILL. You have no idea how proud of myself I was.

Thumbs up, hell yeah! The sky could possibly be the limit with my grilling capabilities, seriously.

So then we set the table and got down to business. I made a side of jasmine rice, about which the book says "A naturally aromatic, long grain white rice, jasmine rice is the staple of most Thai meals." Of course I made it in my rice cooker, which is pretty well hassle free and which I love. As long as I'm not making brown rice. Anyway, we set the table with rice, chicken, and I made some peas as well, and of course, the General's mashed potatoes. Then it was time to get down to business, so of course Leah and Dot both demanded food.

Consequently Lucas took the first bite. The General asked, "Honey, does the chicken have any sauce on it?" and before I could answer, we heard an indecent moan issue from the other end of the chicken before Lucas gulped out, "This chicken doesn't need sauce" and began gobbling it up! So I cut up the General's and he decided to take a crack at it, with my assurances that if he wanted sauce, we had some in the fridge. "Forget the sauce, honey," he said in total agreement with Lucas. I quickly cut up my chicken and stabbed a piece, sinking into culinary happiness with my first bite before regaining control of myself and taking my child back so my sister could enjoy what the rest of us were experiencing.

It was a QUIET meal for a bit as we all sunk our teeth into the chicken. How I grilled it so well, I do not know, but it was juicy and the marinade had really sunk in overnight. It was AMAZING chicken. God it was good. I'm only distressed that there is but one piece left, but guess what I'll be having for lunch tomorrow?!

Afterwards, we rested a bit while the kids finished their bottles and fell asleepish. Then I began to clear the table and we got talking about the joys of growing up near the Canadian border, which somehow led to Judy and I breaking into the Canadian national anthem, and then I was impressed to learn that my husband knew the words to it too! We finished off quite strong with, "O Canada we stand on guard for thee!" and then cheered while I dished out the bars.

This time, Judy took the ceremonial first bite and the first words out of her mouth were, "Holy shit!" She quickly took a swig of soda and then said, "This makes my soda taste bitter!" I didn't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, wondering if maybe something went terribly wrong, so I took a bite, but the fact of it was just the absolute richness of all the ingredients combining into this amazing bite. It's one of those desserts that kind of makes you lose your will to live, in a good way if that makes any sense at all. The General tried it and gobbled it right up!

Lucas couldn't even finish his, and he has a real sweet tooth! The rest of us gamely soldiered on. I must say, I think I know why Mrs. Joyce Hardcastle won the nanaimo bars contest. These suckers were awesome!

Thus endeth two more recipes and two more countries, but this one was momentous, for it was our first country from North America! It was such a fun time, I enjoyed having Dot around for cooking even if she did make a mess. :-) Next up, we're going to try Vietnam on June 18th because Michael's sister is heading there that day! And our Axis of Evil dinner cometh! Details to follow!

Friday, June 12, 2009

An Evening with Annie Barrows

Last year, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. There is a quote in the book that reads, "Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." This is pretty much how I feel about this book. I was in my audiobooks for work phase at the time and found a copy of Guernsey for $15 unabridged on CD. I absolutely LOVED the story and the ensemble cast doing the reading and read the book several times on audio before ultimately choosing it as my book club read this year (we will be discussing it in July).

Recently while surfing the book's website, I came up on a list of book signings that Annie Barrows was doing and discovered that Mary Ann Shaffer had passed away. I was determined to go to one of the book signings in DC, and selected the one at Politics and Prose. Last night was the big night! I was so excited. However, it was also the first time I didn't get there REALLY early, and so we paid the price by not having anywhere to park and not getting to sit in the front. However, we had GREAT seats on the side and I only had to park about a quarter mile away in a mud pit, so I guess it could have been worse?

The signing started pretty promptly and out came Annie Barrows, so cute and petite. The store manager introduced her and she stepped up to the microphone to speak and I held my breath, ready for whatever British magic might issue forth. I could not have been more surprised when she started speaking and it turned out she was American! Seriously! I would not have thought this book could have been so beautifully written and so Britishly written by someone who was not British. But it turns out Shaffer was from West Virginia and Barrows herself from Northern California. SHOCKED! Though I suppose if I had bothered to read the back of the book, it said she lives in Northern California, so I might have had a clue.

Anyway, she spoke at length about the writing process. It turned out that Mary Ann had always wanted to be a writer and was always writing but had a glorious vision of what a writer was and didn't fancy herself that animal. Finally, Mary Ann's sister (Annie's mom) decided enough was enough and fooled Mary Ann into writing a book by forming a writing club with a couple of other friends. They would take turns each week reading what they were working on and soon Mary Ann's book took shape and the other ladies demanded that she continue to work on it even after she herself started to feel as though it wasn't any good.

The idea came from when Mary Ann went to England to study up on Lady Kathleen Scott, wife to famed explorer Captain Robert Scott with whom Mary Ann was very much taken. However, since there were many biographies of Robert Scott in existence and none of his wife, Mary Ann decided that despite her jealousies of the woman, she'd write her biography. She went to Cambridge to examine Lady Scott's writings only to discover a grocery list and a laundry list perfectly preserved, so she gave up and took a flight to Guernsey instead. Unfortunately, the minute she set foot on the island, the weather turned against her and she spent 36 hours huddled in the Guernsey airport, haunting the airport bookshop which primarily stocked books about the German occupation of the island. When the fog lifted, Mary Ann got on the next plane out of Guernsey, never actually seeing the island itself!

So after the writing club kicked off and the book was in hand, Mary Ann went out and found herself an agent who offered the book to 12 different publishing houses, all of whom wanted the book. They sold the book very quickly and Mary Ann's dream of becoming a writer came true! She soon fell ill afterwards, and then when the publisher came back with revisions, she was unable to make them. Consequently it fell to Annie Barrows to pick up where her aunt left off. They were able to discuss a few items here and there before Mary Ann was too ill to continue and Annie finished on her own. She said she thought it would be a chore, but in fact she sat down the first morning and two hours passed without her knowing it. She greatly enjoyed learning how the British spoke in the 1940's and learning the history of the occupation herself. And she felt particularly close to her aunt as she worked on the project.

Then Annie read a couple of letters from the book and then it was Q&A time, although that actually went a lot quicker than many other signings I've been to. There were maybe 6 or 7 questions total. Then they announced that the book signing was to start and could we all please fold up our chairs and put them against the wall? I went to get at the back of the line, but Judy sagely just stood up where we'd been sitting and got in line there, so consequently we got separated. This worked out great for pictures however!

Both girls were so well behaved during the entire signing--not a peep out of them. All the ladies around us were making googly eyes and loving them and they just took it all in stride. The same was for Annie Barrows, who quickly fell in love with both babies.

Dottie went first and sat happily by while Annie signed a book to her. Then it was Leah's big moment. I was so nervous, despite Annie being a quite down to earth sort, and so I managed to blurt out something about this being Leah's first book signing and could we please take a picture to commemorate the event? Annie said, "Turn her around and let me see that baby!" and when I did, history was made:

Yup, that's my baby getting kissed by world famous author Annie Barrows. She wasn't too sure about the whole kissing thing, but she soldiered on. (Janet Evanovich has A LOT to live up to.)

I managed to get out how much I enjoyed the ensemble cast of the CD production, to which Annie said, "Yes, didn't they do a wonderful job!?" and then my turn was over. My book is inscribed, "For Susan and Leah, Enjoy your pie! Annie Barrows". And then it was time to go.

And the instant we got both girls strapped into the car, they both started screaming. But at least they waited. At least they waited. :-)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Breton Point 2009

Breton Point is my favorite place on Earth. When I die, please scatter my ashes there. Thanks.