comforting.

I wanted to accomplish two things with tonight’s dinner. I wanted to make something appropriate for today’s raw, snowy weather; I also wanted to make something that Mrs. Crappy, who is recovering from a root canal, could eat.

chixdumplings

I did them both.

I made this crock pot chicken and dumplings just once before, and it was pretty good. But on my first crack at this very simple recipe, I stuck pretty closely to the instructions. This time I did a few things differently, and came up with something delicious.

What you need:

  • Between 1.5 and 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 medium to large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 or 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, diced
  • Chicken stock
  • Black pepper, cumin, parsley, seasoned salt
  • 2 10-ounce tubes of refrigerated biscuit dough

What you do:

  • Toss the chicken breasts in the bottom of the crock pot. Season with the pepper, seasoned salt, cumin and parsley.
  • Add the diced veggies, butter and condensed soup.
  • Pour in enough chicken stock to cover everything.
  • Turn crock pot on high and cook for six to seven hours.
  • With 90 minutes to an hour left, add the biscuit dough in nickel-sized pieces.

Other things you should know:

  • I put a really fine dice on all the veggies, so Ms. Ouchy Face wouldn’t have any trouble chewing her first solid(ish) meal in about a week. A rougher dice on the carrots and celery wouldn’t hurt.
  • The original recipe calls for water to cover all the stuff at the outset. If you like stuff that, you know, tastes good, use stock or broth instead. Always.
  • Be careful, however, about how much you use. I poured on all 32 ounces of chicken stock I had on hand. The result was a little soupier than I wanted, even after the biscuit dumplings soaked up a whole bunch of liquid.
  • The dumplings will look weird. They’ll float at the top of the crock pot as they cook and expand. I push them down in the mix a few times, just to make sure they’re all picking up all the delicious chicken stuff underneath.
  • Using the biscuit dough for the dumplings is the right way to go, at least in my mind. I love the biscuit-y flavor in each bite.

I didn’t want to push too much for Mrs. Crappy’s return to (nearly) solid food; but if I wanted to go all out with this, I would have made some mashed potatoes and then ladled this all over those.

But even without the trimmings, we did pretty well. I got my comfort food. Mrs. Crappy got her first meat and veggies in several days, in a form that wouldn’t make her face hurt any more than it did already.

10. i get around.

Continuing my long-standing tradition of ignoring Facebook memes in favor of posting them here, today I present: The States To Which Uncle Crappy Has Traveled.

travelmap

That’s the same map that’s been popping up all over Facebook in the last few days, courtesy of Defocus Blog. Here’s the key, based on the specs of the creator:

  • White: I haven’t been.
  • Red: A brief stop or a drive-through.
  • Orange: Spent a day or two.
  • Blue: Multiple trips.
  • Green: I’ve lived there, stayed there for more than a couple weeks or taken multiple multiple trips.

Naturally, I have more information:

Greens:

  • Ohio: I was born and grew up in Columbus. Athens is my spiritual home.
  • Pennsylvania: Uh, I live there. Here. Whatever.
  • Kentucky: I lived there for just over two years, while stationed at Fort Knox. If you haven’t heard it already, ask me to tell you my Kentucky Derby story.
  • Wisconsin: I spent several summers at the lake houses of Dr. History’s family, on a chain of lakes between Woodruff and Minocqua. Love that area.
  • Florida: This is perhaps a borderline green state for me, but I’m including it because of our nearly annual trips there to spend time with my sister’s family.

Blues:

  • It’s interesting to see how many of these are included in the list because of Grateful Dead, Phish or other miscellaneous hippie-band touring over the years. Several — Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey and probably New York — were bumped up from Oranges or Reds because of the shows I’ve seen.
  • Texas: The result of the residence of my mother in law and her husband, and a long family vacation that led to the discovery of the Whataburger chain. That was the same trip when I thought I’d be good an order a water at a restaurant in Nuevo Larado, Mexico; my mother quickly told the server that I would have a Coke instead, leading young me to believe that Mexico was the coolest place on the entire planet.
  • Colorado and Utah: Ski trips. And I need to go back soon.
  • Michigan: The State Up North would have made the list for several ski trips to Boyne, but there have also been football games at East Lansing — a good one — and two trips to that other college town. Those weren’t so good.
  • Hawaii: A family trip — the one that led to our brush with Pele, the state’s goddess of fire — and our honeymoon. The family trip also led to my only appearance in California; our flights to and from the islands both went through LAX.

Whites:

  • Man, I need to spend some time in New England.

9. the best gift ever.

20131110-001744.jpg

Visitors make life unpleasant for Miles, who is completely relaxed with us but pretty high-strung around nearly anyone else.

He knows my parents, which helps. Some. But it took him much of the evening to decide it was OK to come up out of the basement, and even then he wouldn’t join me on the couch until my mom went to bed upstairs.

He joined us in bed for a moment but didn’t stay; house guests interrupt his daily explorations of his territory, and he had some catching up to do.

Which is why I was a little surprised when I heard him and a slightly muffled meow coming back upstairs and into our room.

And he had come with a gift.

Although he has the run of the house, there are very few things in this place that are truly his: the food and water dishes, the upstairs and downstairs cat accommodations and a few of his favorite toys. He seems pleased with his stuff, too. These are the things that are most important in his life.

So when he shares them with us — as he did just a few minutes ago when he brought his catnip banana from the kitchen upstairs to our bedroom — I am touched. I don’t know what the specific message was, because he didn’t seem interested in playing. Maybe it’s a way of reassuring himself that things are OK, even with visitors snoring away in our guest bedroom.

But for whatever reason, it was important enough to our cat at that moment that he hauled his favorite toy — the most important object in his life besides those that have to do with food or pooping — through two rooms, up a flight of stairs, across a hallway and into another room so he could share it with his people.

Cats can’t communicate? Wrong. Miles does, loud and clear.

belgium. via florida.

I knew I had read something, perhaps in the spring, about the possibility.

But until I heard a piece on NPR’s Morning Edition on the morning of Dec. 12 that I remembered — Westvleteren 12 was on sale. In my country.

A brief bit of background: Westvleteren is brewed by an order of Trappist monks in Belgium, and, to put it mildly, their beer is highly regarded; their quad, Westvleteren 12, generally shows up near the top — if not in the top spot — of best-beer-on-the-planet lists. Part of the hype has to do with very limited supply and the resulting mystique.It’s available only at the monastery, and not always there; if you’re nearby, you contact the monks, and if you’re lucky they’ll give you a date and time to show up and buy your share.

The monks make only enough beer to fund a fairly simple existence. But that’s what was behind the exports of 2012 — the monastery needed repairs, and the monks figured selling special packages of the 12 in Europe and North America would be a good way to raise the money.

I heard the NPR piece while I was on the way to work that morning. After taking care of some work stuff, I fired up Google and found a list of the locations that would have some of were being called the “bricks” — boxed gift-packs, with six bottles of Westie 12 and two logo goblets.

Pennsylvania? To the surprise of no one, nope. Ohio? Of course, Vintage Estate in Boardman had the beer, but it was holding a lottery the following Sunday to unload its allotment, and I would be at work. We were going to be in Cleveland on that Saturday, but I was certain the two stores there would be sold  out by then.

And then my eyes drifted to the Florida portion of the list. There, I saw that Total Wine and More stores in every Florida town of a decent size were carrying the beer. Including the one in Naples, a store we know well from our visits to my sister and her family.

Ooo. This has promise.

I called the Naples store, and a bored-sounding clerk said they had plenty.

I then left messages for E, on her home phone and her cell. I must have sounded desperate, because she called me back shortly. After some initial chatting, I popped these questions:

“So, you think you could go buy me an $85 six pack? And then ship it to me? And could you go do it now?”

My sister, a mother of three, is a woman of infinite patience, because she immediately got in her car, drove to Total Wine and dropped a ridiculous amount of money to satisfy a whim of her brother. I PayPal’ed money to cover the cost of the beer and the shipping … and about a week after my sheepish phone call, there was the box, on my desk at work.

The package arrived safely. I got it home safely as well. I put two bottles in the beer fridge and stowed the other four in our cellar. We would drink two for Christmas this year and crack one for each of the following Decembers, until they were gone.

westies

How was it?

Very, very good. A silky texture. Ripe, dark fruit, mixing with caramel. A little bready, a little funk. Not too hot, especially for a beer with a hefty ABV. And not overly sweet, as I had been led to expect.

A world-class beer, worth the money I paid to get it? Absolutely.

The best beer I’ve ever had? No.

Or, at least, not yet. Ask me again in four years.

soul man.

 

I don’t think I saw the Blues Brothers movie in the theater when it was released in 1980, but I know I watched the hell out of it when it showed  up on cable.

I am not exaggerating here. I was fascinated by the band, having seen its SNL appearances through the 1970s, and I loved the music, especially as an alternative to the disco that passed as the popular music of the day.

And when the movie showed up on HBO? I watched. Daily.

Seriously. In the first week it was released on cable, it fell into a rotation where it was on in the late afternoon nearly every day for two weeks. And I fell into a rotation of my own, turning it on when I got home from school and watching right up until it was time for dinner.

My father didn’t seem irritated to see me watching the Blues Brothers every night for a week, although I may recall an eyeroll or two. But I remember this distinctly: somewhere around the second week of my Blues Brothers binge, Dad told me to turn off the TV and follow him into the living room.

He sat me down on the couch while he knelt in front of the cabinet that held the stereo components and all of his records. He flipped through one stack and pulled out a red double LP. He put one of the vinyl discs on the turntable and gently dropped the needle at the start of the record.

He turned up the volume, set the album cover in my lap and said: “If you’re going to listen to this stuff, you should know where it comes from.”

And at impressive volume, I heard a by-then-familiar horn line. And I heard Otis Redding singing “I Can’t Turn You Lose,” the song that Belushi and Akroyd adpoted as their theme music.

I looked at the liner notes inside the album. And that’s when I found out that Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper were real musicians with an unreal history. My father’s impromptu lesson was about Otis Redding and the band (Booker T and the MGs) that propelled him in the studio and on stage; that lesson also led me to Delaney and Bonnie, Wilson Pickett, Albert King and Sam and Dave, a lot to digest for a very white kid in a very white suburb.

My high-school friends will tell you that discovery — and the subsequent obsession — never really subsided; they got to hear plenty of Stax soul as we rode around Columbus in Turbo Pinto.

When Dunn died on Sunday, he was doing what he had always done. He was touring in Japan, playing the bass lines that held together the best soul records ever recorded. And whether you’re talking about his work in Memphis or as part of the Blues Brothers’ revival of the form, Dunn’s stamp is unmistakable.

And it will never be duplicated.