LSS: Complicated stories deserve patience

Complicated stories are tricky to tell. People prefer simple stories best. Complicated stories require patience on the part of the storyteller and the audience.

This complicated story has twists and turns that have landed a second young Chinese lady sitting at my family’s dinner table. She’s not here to stay, but the fact that she’s here at all is something I never believed would happen.

In some ways, hers is a story as old as China. In other ways, it is a story as new as the morning.

Jade may or may not be 29 years old. She’s spent her life in a Chinese orphanage or Social Welfare Institute, as they’re called in China. We suspect she’s about four years younger than the age she was assigned. The international adoption craze came along too late for Jade. Girls older than 14 can’t be adopted. By the time international adoption was growing like wildfire, Jade was “too old.”

Familial connections open doors in China. There is more than one great wall in China. Children who grow up inside the walls of an SWI have no influential friends or relatives. There aren’t many paths for children like Jade.

Jade’s SWI is a little community, filled with young and old, all wards of the state. Until about six years ago, it is the place Jade expected to spend her life.

When my husband and I went to China to adopt our daughter nearly seven years ago, we were blessed to have friends accompany us. With their depth of understanding of Chinese culture and language, Michelle and John made our adoption journey much richer.

We were lucky enough to have the chance to visit our daughter’s orphanage – also Jade’s SWI and home. As we visited the well-manicured grounds, Michelle was speaking Chinese with older girls who lived there. They quickly let her know that they did not want to speak Chinese.

“We want learn English,” each of them chimed.

That simple sentence changed the course of Michelle’s life.

A year later she talked me into joining her on another trip to China, a trip designed to help the older girls with their English. During that trip, Jade and I became friends.

Both Michelle and I realized that for Jade, learning English was not just about improving her mind. We knew she saw it as her big chance for a better life.

Since our second trip to China, Michelle has helped Jade and the other girls in many ways. She organized scholarships for them to go to schools and universities. She orchestrated new and improved living arrangements for many. From across the world, she arranged higher quality medical care for one and then returned to China to check on her recovery. She has been a woman on a mission.

While I was busy being the mother of my own children, Michelle became the guardian angel of a group of disparate girls in China.

Then another American family stepped into Jade’s life…

 

(Stay tuned next week for part two of Jade’s story.)

Long Story Short: Make a pass through town

Perhaps Lafayette teens haven’t known the joy of cruising around an established route – trying to catch the eye of a certain someone. Sources say there was a time when lots of kids headed to the Beaver Park. Others went to Judice Inn or a place called Hopper’s Drive-In. Maybe there was just too much else to do?

However, in many of Acadiana’s smaller towns, cruising a set path was a rite of passage.

“My mother didn’t let us going riding around. She said that was when trouble started. When I started riding around, I found out she was right,” a friend from Welsh said. “We’d head past Mobil to the second stoplight, turn right and sorta-kinda make a figure-eight back.”

In Rayne, there was a more structured route.

“There was the Short Route and the Really Long Route,” a Rayne native told me. “You’d go to the turn-around in front of McDonald’s, down the boulevard, turn between a bank and a house and pass the Chinese restaurant – the Short Route. Or, you could head all the way down to the Depot Square and turn around.”

Riding around was a huge part of life for teens in the town where I grew up. Through Jitney Jungle’s parking lot, right on Hwy 80, down to Sonic and back. However, I didn’t learn about riding around in earnest until I moved to Magee, Miss.

In Magee, there was not a complicated series of turns required to pass a Friday night.

Nope, there was a block. A single block.

Legions of kids from all over drove around and around one block.

Main Street. Right. Pass the parking lot. Take the right at the Baptist Church. Another right. Pass the library. Start all over again. The bold and confident could stop in The Parking Lot. They’d lean on their cars. Some of them would smoke. They’d talk to each other and then get back in their cars and ride around some more. 

Timing was critical. Imagine if the person whose eye you were hoping to catch went the other way at the same time you did. If you were feeling bold, you could stop at the parking lot. If you were fortunate to pass a certain someone, your heart would go flitter-flutter, when he or she rolled down the window and said, “Meet me in The Parking Lot.” These were heady times.

On occasion, guys lined the beds of their trucks and filled them with water. Bikini-clad girls splashed right by the Baptist church.

Riding around The Block was legend – a sort of rite of passage. Many marriages came from going around the single city block.

A few years ago, local police shut The Block down.

Looking for a trip down memory lane, Yancey Sanford started a “Ridin the Block” Facebook group. In a month, the group has nearly 800 members, significant for a town the size of Magee. After many messages yearning for a Riding the Block reunion, Yancey took the idea a step further. He approached Magee’s mayor to get approval to open The Block — all public streets — once more for old time’s sake.

“I gave them my best sales pitch,” he wrote. “I told them it could grow as large as Crazy Day (Magee’s annual festival), or larger, simply because the participants have an emotional attachment.”

The mayor said OK.

And on July 18, for one night only and one night only, several generations of Block riders will come from near and far to make another trip around The Block. 

LSS: A waltzing fool…

Dancing with the Stars is responsible.

As the ballroom dance competition was heating up back in April, Greer, my 11-year-old, announced she wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. She is not a child who makes such declarations often. So, before she went to bed that night, I was looking for someone who could teach her.

A friend connected me with a guy who teaches private lessons. I could tell his laid-back style would mesh well with Greer’s. I signed her up.

Then I started thinking.

If I’m going to take her to lessons and sit there with her…

And it’s just her learning to dance…

Heck, I don’t know how to ballroom dance at all.

Surely, I, too, could learn to rumba.

Greer said she didn’t mind if I mooched in on her dance lesson. And that’s how the two of us, mother and daughter, started learning to waltz and jitterbug. We’ll soon be moving on to other, slightly more complicated, dance floor numbers.

There’s a chance at this point that some faithful readers are aghast that the waltz and jitterbug have come into my life so late. While dancing is as much a part of Acadiana’s culture as the music that inspires the moves, not so far from this region, there are places were many people just don’t dance.

Years ago, even though most of the girls in my class took dance lessons from Miss Glinda on Monday afternoons, dancing was frowned upon in the tiny town where I grew up.

We learned shuffle-ball-change and other basic steps, but only Tina Smith (who must have had a little Billy Elliott thing going on in her head) knew how to act on a dance floor. Tina danced all the time and didn’t care what anybody said or thought. She had the music in her and could have made it down the Soul Train line in style.

I checked with childhood friends to see if they remembered it the way I did. They agreed — a dance floor intimidates us.

When my husband and I took our first dance at our wedding reception (to Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, by the way), the depth of my inadequacies was apparent. Clearly, dancing was a lot of fun. I just didn’t know how to do it.

I didn’t want that for either of our daughters.

For Greer and me, our dance teacher has been a gift. Dancing with someone who knows what’s going on makes things less complicated. He teaches us the steps. One. Two. Three. We review. He teaches us how to turn. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.

When he puts on the music and my little-girl-on-the-verge-of-growing-up waltzes, my whole heart smiles. I can see her counting in her head as she steps to the beat.

One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.

When it’s my turn, there are these fleeting moments when I stop counting and just dance that take my breath away.

One. Two. Three. One. Two…

What’s for supper? Bleu Cheese Salad

When Julio and I went to New Orleans for his birthday (way back in January), we had a salad at BeshSteak that has since changed the way I prepare many a salad in my home. Theirs was super simple, but the ingredients were impeccable. You should try this salad. It’s super yummy. I sometimes eat it as they prepared it and sometimes doctor it up a bit. Regardless, I’ve been eating a lot of one variation or another of this salad since January. Give it a go.

Buttermilk Bleu Cheese Salad

homemade Ranch dressing (you’re probably familiar, but just in case. Buy one of the envelope mixes and simply follow the directions. To make it really yummy, substitute buttermilk for the whole milk. Make and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.)

bleu cheese crumbles (I buy a medium-sized tub of these at Sam’s. They keep forever and are delicious.)

butter lettuce

Prepare lettuce for salad and refrigerate. If you’re preparing salad for four, mix about 1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles (to your taste) in about 3/4 cup salad dressing. In a very large bowl, toss the lettuce, blue cheese and dressing. You’ll want a lot of the dressing.  Serve immediately.

Variations: Mix and match any of the following: Slivered almonds, grapes cut in half, walnuts or slivers of Granny Smith apples. 

Thank me later.

What’s for supper? Lentils and Chicken

Can’t say why, but I’ve got a craving for lentils — we go together like the Tony Awards and Billy Elliot. So, tonight I’m going to try a chicken and lentils recipe. If you’ve never cooked lentils, give it a go. They’re tasty, almost meaty. We generally eat them during the winter, but who says you can’t enjoy lentils in June?

 

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dried lentils
  • 1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (10 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the chicken pieces 5 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear. Remove chicken from skillet, and set aside.
  2. Place onion in the skillet, and cook 5 minutes, until tender. Mix in the carrot and garlic. Stir in the lentils and broth, and season with salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes.
  3. Return chicken to skillet. Cover, and continue cooking 20 minutes. If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little water to just moisten.
  4. Stir tomato sauce into the skillet. Season with rosemary and basil. Continue cooking 10 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Stir in lemon juice, and serve warm.

LSS: Finding his inner-Mexican

In the past six months, my husband has said he’s had the chance to find his inner-Mexican.

He’ll tell you that as a joke.

But we both know there’s a lot of truth in his laughter.

He’ll also tell you that he grew up in a culture that, in order to get what you want, you had to make it yourself.

He’s done a lot of making-it-himself lately, but by now, he recognizes that the quality of self-reliance is not unique to the Mexican culture.

Watching him make that connection reminded me of when we first moved to Lafayette, and I heard a local comedian say, “There’s one thing about us Cajuns. We love our food. We love our families, and we love our God.”

While I know that statement to be true about the Cajun culture, it’s also equally true about Mexican culture. About Cuban culture. About Thai culture. About most any culture I know anything about, in fact.

Yes, my husband’s Mexican-inspired declaration has to do with all the things he’s built. He’s laid tile. He’s installed windows. He’s painted. He’s built a set of lockers, one for each member of our family to simply drop our bits and bags, hang our sweaters, leave our books or whatever else we want upon our arrival at home.

As in the best humor, there’s much truth.

Finding his inner-Mexican has been about more than building things. It’s about him being who he is and being happy. In fact, our whole family is happier these days. We work better now – and that’s mainly because he’s home more. He’s comfortable in his skin. He’s fully himself. Life is much less stressful for us all.

Say what you will or won’t about the women’s liberation movement, but, from my experience, the fact is that home life, especially with kids, works better when someone is actually home. Not to say that plenty of single parent or dual-working parents’ families don’t work well. I know they do, but I also know it’s wearing. And that wearing-down is closely tied to economics, isn’t it?

During this transition time for our family and our nation’s economy as a whole, I’ve re-learned some of things people, mainly my parents and grandparents, tried to teach me when I was a child. They knew back then, and tried to teach the rest of us, that money doesn’t equal happiness. What I’ve learned most recently is that spending less money doesn’t equal less happiness. Like most Americans, I needed to be reminded of that. The rush-rush-spend-what-we-can-try-to-fit-everything-in lifestyle contributes to the wearing down of families.

Thankfully, my husband – and therefore, the rest of our family – has had the chance to re-learn some of life’s basics this year. He says his many years in corporate America were mostly rewarding, but the creative spirit required there has more to do with ideas. Now, he gets to make more tangible items, and at heart, he’s an artist – a creator of things.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She can be reached at jan@janrisher.com.


What’s for supper?

Ok, so, I have a soft heart for some stories and hate to see what’s happened to Susan Boyle. I don’t understand the “build them up just to tear them apart” mentality. So, in honor of dear Susan and her valiant efforts on “Britain’s Got Talent,” we’ll have an English-inspired meal this evening.

We’ll start with dessert. I love scones more than I should admit. This is THE BEST scone recipe I have ever found. Greer and I make it often during winter, but it’s good any time of year.

Recipe(tried): Orange Glazed Cranberry Scones 

2 cups unbleached flour, plus more for rolling berries (I used regular all-purpose flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut in chunks
3/4 cup buttermilk or cream
1 egg
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; mix thoroughly. Cut in butter using 2 forks or a pastry blender. The butter pieces should be coated with flour and resemble crumbs. 

In another bowl, mix buttermilk and egg together, and then add to the flour mixture. Mix just to incorporate, do no overwork the dough.

Roll cranberries in flour to coat, this will help prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the scone when baked. Fold the cranberries into batter. Drop large tablespoons of batter on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. Cool before applying orange glaze.

Orange Glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 oranges, juiced and zested

To prepare Orange Glaze: combine butter, sugar, orange zest, and juice over a double boiler. Cook until butter and sugar are melted and mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and beat until smooth and slightly cool. Drizzle or brush on top of scones and let glaze get hazy and hardened.

From there, we’ll do a variation on fish and chips:

Baked sweet potato chips (don’t laugh if you haven’t tried them)

Peel and cut up three large sweet potatoes. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil on French Fries and toss. Bake for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees or until chips/fries are crispy. Season with McCormick’s Seasoning Salt. Eat with Ranch Dressing. Yum. Yum. Yum. My kids LOVE these.

I’ve never tried this baked fish recipe, but I’m willing to give it a try. You can cook the fish and potatoes at the same time. See what you think and let me know:

Baked Fish

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Mix together the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and paprika in a bowl. Dip haddock or cod fillets into the flour, shake well to remove excess, then into egg white, and finally into the crumbs mixture until evenly coated.
  3. Place on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Cook 12-15 minutes until cooked through and golden. Serve with the sweet potato chips.

What’s for supper?

Roasted carrots

8 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces at a 45 degree angle (sounds more complicated than it is)

1 large onion, cut into eights

olive oil

salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 (yes, really that high). Put carrots, olive oil and onion pieces into a roasting pan. Toss well, ensuring that all carrot pieces are covered with oil. Place in oven. After about 8 minutes, remove from oven and re-toss. Place back in oven and check again in about 8 minutes. If some of the carrot pieces don’t have blackened edges, cook another 3-10 minutes (I know that’s a large range, but ovens vary greatly on this dish). Serve on a large platter. Great with grilled chicken or whatever. This is my children’s second-favorite dish that I make. They love. Can’t get enough of it. We run out every time I make it. Sounds implausible, I know, but try it and you’ll see what they mean.

Simple Grilled Chicken

Marinate chicken in mixture of your choice (my brother swears by any Italian dressing), I prefer to mix some lemon juice and various spices. Heat coals or entire grill to hot. If you’re using an electric grill, cut off half of the burners and grill chicken on the half without the burners. If you’re using coals (lucky you), move the coals over to one side and grill chicken on the other. Keep grill covered most of the time.

 

Bleu Cheese Ranch Salad

Try mixing bleu cheese crumbles in a homemade Ranch salad dressing mix. Slice green apples into long slivers. Toss a mixed green salad with almonds or walnuts. Toss salad with bleu cheese and Ranch dressing before serving. 

All of the dishes in this meal area  great complement to each other. Enjoy!

What’s for supper? Butter Lettuce with Lobster salad

Sounds fancier than it is. Don’t be put off. Just give it a try.

• Butter Lettuce
• Ripe Avocado
• Red Onion
• Lime
• Butter, or Low-Fat Buttery Spread
• Packaged Imitation Lobster
Dressing:
Cousin’s Creole Tomato or my modified Ranch Dressing

Directions:

Chill produce in refrigerator prior to preparing. Wash lettuce and return to fridge to cool. 
Cut an avocado lengthwise. Slice the onion in very thin slices (may only use half depending on size).
Arrange lobster on a sheet of foil and brush with melted butter or buttery spread.
Wrap lobster in the foil and put on the grill, or grill in toaster oven on “Grill” setting until lobster is hot.
Toss all elements, except butter lettuce, together. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top.
Dress the mixed ingredients and put in the middle of plated lettuce.
You might accent this with a slice of fresh mango. 
I like to eat this with Cousin’s Creole Tomato Salad Dressing. If you can’t find that, try it with a modified Ranch Dressing — just add a bit of Cayenne Pepper to Ranch for it to have a little kick. I prefer to toss the salad before serving.