Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mrs. Clements' Broccoli-Cheese Soup

A long time ago, I went back to work after staying home with the kids for many years.  It was a luxury to be able to do so, one for which I will always be grateful.  At the time, Nathan was old enough to be a latch-key kid (in theory) after school, but Allison was too young. I was really stressed to find the right situation.  She was still in elementary school, and I didn't want an abrupt lifestyle change for her.

Eureka! Uber-mom Mrs. Clements! Nancy and I had become friends through the school circuit; field trips, PTA, grademothers.  She has three fabulous children, a warm and inviting home, and a kind, funny husband.  Thankfully, Mrs. Clements agreed to have Allison over in the afternoons until I got home from work.  Allison had a great time, even learning to ride a 2-wheel bike while in their care.

One day when I arrived to pick up, Nancy was making the excellent Broccoli-Cheese soup.  That was the late 90s, and both of us have been making it ever since. As warning, do not attempt to make this low fat, make a smaller batch, or use anything other than steamed fresh broccoli florets.  If you do one of these things, let me know so that I can say, "I told you so!".

Mrs. Clements' Broccoli-Cheese Soup
2-3 heads broccoli
1 onion, diced           
1/2 stick butter          
1/4 cup flour              
4 cups chicken stock
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can Cream of Chicken
1 quart Half and Half    
8 oz Velveeta, cubed
1 cup shredded cheddar

Steam broccoli florets ( I use 2 bags of the pre-cut florets) and drain.  I chop some, leave others as florets.

Meanwhile, sweat onion in butter; when slightly softened, add in flour to form a roux.  Cook for 1-2 minutes to lose the raw flour flavor. Slowly pour in chicken stock, stirring constantly.  Add bouillon cubes and heat to near boiling and slightly thickened.  Add Cream of Chicken soup until incorporated, then pour in half and half.  Bring back up to medium heat, and add cheeses, simmering slowly until melted (stirring very often).  Add broccoli and enjoy!

*I think this would also be good with chicken (it could then be called Chicken Divan Soup), but I'm a purist and am leaving well enough alone.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I'm Not Crazy - My Mother Had Me Tested

One of my favorite shows is The Big Bang Theory.  It is well-written, and I often laugh out loud (really) at some of the unexpected things Sheldon Cooper says. ("It's ON, bitch!")

I find Sheldon's determination to adhere to a self-imposed schedule entertaining.  Sheldon has laundry night, pizza night, comic book night, and vintage video game night, among others.  Similarly, Sheldon has bus pants, elaborate disaster planning, and even a napkin plan.  These things are designed to mitigate risk and impose structure, which presumably makes him more comfortable in life.

This was all just entertainment until I started to notice (to a lesser degree, surely!) that I have similar tendencies.  I tend to embrace the sameness that seems to keep me in my comfort zone.  While I don't have bus pants, I do make every effort to park in the very same area of the parking deck, if not spot, every day.  While I don't have laundry night, there is a point in the week that if this task hasn't been completed, I'm sure that the end of times is near.  I don't have a disaster plan, but I take great comfort in knowing what exactly I will do if there's a roof leak, or a broken pipe. I've even gone so far as to quiz the vet on what happens if my beloved Snickers comes to the end of her life on a Sunday!

This sounds mostly reasonable, until I think of some of the ways I limit myself.  Spare work, I only travel when accompanied by certain, select people.  I'm not a "joiner", so I'm sure to see if attendees of a particular event are familiar prior to accepting an invitation.  The idea of going to a restaurant or movie solo is incomprehensible. Based on the parameters I've assigned to stay in my comfort zone, I now spend large spans of time at home, where I can completely control my surroundings.

My sister pointed out recently that I over-plan and over-think everything and that there are just some things I need to stop thinking about and just DO. In theory, I agree with her, but somewhere in the back of my head, there's a voice saying, "That's just short-sighted! What if....".

All this said to say that while I don't buy in to resolutions, it wouldn't kill me to wage a campaign (in baby steps) to become more social, adaptable, and less fearful in 2013.  I'll let you know how that goes.

PS: That reminds me; I need to check on those plane tickets I booked last August for my May trip to Iowa.  Surely planning ahead can't be all bad, right?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Irk List - Tax Returns

Every year about this time, the commercials turn to Refund Anticipation Loans, jewelers and car companies offering to loan you money based on your W-2 and anticipated refund, etc. This reminds me of the tax return mindset that drives me ape crazy.

So, here's the hard news: Your tax refund is NOT found money, like winning the lottery, or stumbling across the rest of D.B. Cooper's loot on a beach. It is money that you overpaid our government throughout the year.

Now, I hear you - you likely wouldn't have saved it had you had it weekly. I get that. There are those that have less self-restraint than others. If you recognize that you need this kind of structure to save, more power to you.

So, here's the rub. When I hear Doris mention how she and Bubba are going to Cozumel with their tax return, I nearly stroke out. If Bubba and Doris can only get to Cozumel via tax return, that's a clear indication that they need to direct the money in a better way for their future security. Sucks, I know.

We should indignantly rip that interest-less refund out of the IRS' hands as though they were pickpockets. We should then bring in some Jean Chatzky-like guidelines and decide how it can be best utilized.
  • Do you have credit card debt?  Throw the refund at this immediately - this stuff is evil.
  • Do you have the ample cash-on-hand padding to solve for unemployment, or other unexpected life events? (ranging from a broken washer to Fido needing life-saving surgery)  If you have no credit card debt, this is the second gap to fill. I believe the guideline in this economy is 6-8 months of salary in cash.
  • Do you have adequate savings toward retirement? No one's going to do it for us, so if you aren't tracking at an adequate rate, you'll be working until you're 90.  This is the third gap - throw the return into an IRA.
I get that none of this is fun.  Vacations, new furniture, a new car or other types of more fun items should be a part of a short-term saving plan, as opposed to the long-term savings for retirement. 

If you totally disagree with me and think I'm just a big buzz-kill, that's your business. But, please; when you and Bubba are waving goodbye from the side of the Carnival cruise, just don't tell me.  Ignorance is bliss.