Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crispy Orange Chicken Happiness--A Recipe

This one is dedicated to Dawn, a fellow lover of orange-ish things.

I have mentioned before that I am a fan of Do It Yourself cooking adventures. I celebrate cookbooks that utilize the phrase Copy Cat. Sometimes I will sit at my laptop, spending my free time just idly seeking out copy cat versions of my favorite foods. I'll stare at the screen as mental images of All Things Delicious drift through my mind, mentally snagging a few and running searches on them to see what I can uncover deep in the bowels of the Cyber Vaults.

One such foray yielded gold. Sheer gold.

I <heart> the Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl at Applebee's. So very much so that it is what I get, almost every single time I go. I say, "almost" because I also like to get the Asian Wrap or the Santa Fe Wrap. But that is neither here nor there at this moment in blog-time.

But I digress.

I found a Copy Cat version of this most favorite of all things one day and was eager to try it out. To my joy and surprise, the sauce is exactly like Applebee's version. Exactly. I'm including the recipe for the sauce, but not for the batter-fried chicken. I'll explain that later, so read on.

Orange Chicken Glaze

What You'll Need:

1 TBS veggie oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh orange rind
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Hoisin Sauce
Dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup granulated sugar

What You'll Do:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the garlic, sauteing for 1 minute. Be careful not to let the pan get too hot or you'll end up with bitter garlic, which is boo.
Add the rest of your ingredients and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, allow to boil for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, until it gets to your desired consistency.

Applebee's serves theirs with stir fry veggies, rice, and some crispy noodles & slivered almonds.

Here's what I did to make this come together quickly and with amazing results. I used popcorn chicken to star as my Crispy Chicken in this particular role. If you get a good brand--the type that looks like fritters---you end up with the same result.It's quick. It's easy. And it keeps the Fry Daddy away and in the basement, which I consider a boon. I baked the chicken and then mixed it into the saucepan, tossing to coat well.

As the chicken was cooking, I stir fried some frozen veggies. Applebee's uses broccoli, snow peas, red peppers, and mushrooms.  To be quick, I used a frozen blend. Costco has a wonderful Stir Fry blend that has everything in it. By the time the chicken was done, the veggies were ready.

I served this on brown rice, in bowls, with egg rolls on the side.
My children, who traditionally hate all things that are not Peanut Butter, Pizza, or Yogurt, actually consumed the entirety of their bowls, and impressed me greatly in the process. They even asked me if we could make it again the next night. That's mighty high praise from these two Pizza Lovin' Ladies. So I mark this as a really good recipe.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Closing Of The Year

The winds of November have blown the vestiges of October off the calendar page. Days have drifted into weeks, which have pulled us closer to that holiday of plenty once again.

One week away.

Then Christmas. Just around the corner.

The closing of the year is always an interesting time for me. For our family. Probably for most families, each in its own way. For me it's a time of nearly perpetual motion; set in gear by that flip of the calender page back on November first. It always seems as though within days of that action, we're getting ready to sit down to The Feast. The one day wherein it's completely socially acceptable to be an utter glutton. For the the whole day. I read somewhere that the Pilgrims celebrated their Thanksgiving for three full days. Each one adhering to a rigorous schedule of eat, play, sleep; repeat. For three days. .

November comes and my house is bedecked in all things Holiday Cheer. Trees. Lights. Colors. Ornaments. All up and shimmering. A shiny way to smooth out this year and usher in the next. Christmas songs fill the house and our car, carrying us along our way, floating on a cloud of Yule Tide Cheer. I know everyone has an opinion about it, but for what it's worth, I actually like hearing Christmas songs played in the retail stores throughout the season. Even when "The Season" starts on November first. Along with that fateful page flip seems to come a strange compulsion for some people to become completely oblivious to the existence of other human beings around them. For an entire 2 months it seems, there are those in our realms who feel they are alone:

On The Road ---so let's feel free to cut over a lane without looking. Surely there is no one there.

In the Stores--- it's okay to push your way through, since surely there is no one there on whose toes you may have just stepped.

At the Checkout Lane---if there's no one in front of or behind you, it doesn't matter what lane you choose. And no, you haven't cut in front of anyone. Besides, you need to get home, right?


For the rest of us, those who don't disappear into a world of No One Else, we have to put up with the pushing, cutting, and rather aggressive driving. With a smile. Christmas Music helps me with that.

When a stranger, dwelling in the land of No One Else, runs their cart into my child, nearly knocking her down, and then passes us by without a glance....well, the happy rhythm of Jingle Bells goes a long way towards helping me keep my focus on my perplexed child, and not on trailing the offender and expressing something somewhat less than Christmas Cheer.

All season long.

Every year I promise myself we'll make the focus on The Birth that means more than brightly packaged presents. Yet it's so easy to get caught up in the fast pace of it. So I end my year promising to keep better focus next year.

A cycle.

Will this year be different? I have to hope it will be. There's always great hope in that pure intention. Our decorations are out, halls having been decked over the course of the last 2 weeks, thus saving me from an onslaught of sudden Christmas Season Fervor. Lists have been written up by two little girls who very endearingly informed me that they didn't really need more 'things' this year. And we're all gathered together, remembering why we have this glittery holiday to begin with. The story that goes back longer than the tale of St. Nick; back to a simple town, and a lowly manger, and the Miracle that was born there.

On this calm November day, I find myself quite peaceful and focused.

And ready for The Season.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Art Of Laziness

I am not a lazy person by nature. At least, I like to think I'm not.

But I do love some of the traditions often found in those who are lazy. The sacred rituals of The Lazy Ones.

......I love to sleep in.
            Really, if it were a sporting event, I would feel like a true athlete, able to sleep in with the best of them.

....I adore my pajamas.
            I have a pair of sock monkey jammies that hang out with me all year, despite their flannel material and Christmas stocking decor. They're just that darn comfortable.

.....I like the open-mindedness of no schedule.
           "No Schedule" was a kiss of death back when the girls were younger. Having a schedule and sticking to it every single day was the only thing that kept my sanity somewhat in tact. But Now I want to pad around in my jammies, coffee in hand, aimlessly wandering the downstairs of a quiet house. For as long as I want.

.....Nothing irks me more than having to get up and jump directly into the shower.
        This goes back to my adoration of No Schedule. After all, nothing declares, Something Which Must Be Done quite like having to get all gussied up for it immediately. Nah, slow down; stay in your jammies for awhile, friend.

It's not that I'm not a morning person. I pop out of bed chattering about the day and the plans from the moment my eyes open.
But I just love the coziness of doing nothing in particular at any given moment of time; the smoothness of a day spread out before you with no lines filled in, just waiting to be explored. You know, whenever.

And I find myself quite blessed that I married someone who shares my love of these rituals of possible laziness. Don't let the Monday through Friday alarm clock wake up call at 5:00 am fool you. On weekends and vacations, he's right with me in his pajamas and aimless, pad-footed wanderings.

And it's an abundant blessing that my offspring feel the same. What are the odds that two kiddos would be lovers of the art of sleeping in? (Must be that twin bond).

Here's to sleeping in. To hanging out in your pajamas for longer than considered socially acceptable. For not filling the day with plans, but winging it as you go, filling it with the stuff of adventure. For keeping that bed head just a bit longer than others might think appropriate, risking the possiblity of scaring the mailman.

And to being together while doing it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


"Yes, but how do you know you are doing the right thing?"

I was asked this most important question recently as I spoke to a friend about teaching the girls at home. It's a good question, really.

I can't even count the times in my life when I've found myself staring down the barrel of A Big Decision; an action that needs to be taken, a cause and effect that needs to be dealt with. I positively hate that feeling of "Should I or Shouldn't I? Is this Right or Wrong?" that nags at me in nearly everything important that I decide to do. Or not do.

Whenever faced with a choice, be it an ugly or pretty one, I pray. I can't come up with the answers all on my own folks, and I don't really want to try. There's peace in that too, a sort of giving the pressure up and letting it go.

Sometimes God's answers aren't what I wanted to hear. (Yes, it's true.) Sometimes I get a no when what I desperately wanted was a yes. But even though I don't always get what I want, it's true what they say. I get what I need.
And that is just right, too.

Needless to say, the choice to school the girls at home was at the end of a path paved with many prayers. We didn't enter into this lightly.

But we sure are having a blast.
Yes, we sure are.

Everyday I wake up and pull myself together, snagging a few Me Moments (aka Coffee) before awakening the girls. After getting them ready, we head downstairs To Start Our Day. Our school day revolves around the dining room, the family room, the kitchen, and outside. We move when we need to move, pick up where we left off, and go with along with the ebbs and flow in our moods.

I teach. They learn. Heck, I learn. And they're teaching me in the process.

At the end of our lessons, it's all put away; books and pencils back on shelves, papers sorted into folders, activities checked off lists of things to do. We take a break from each other. They in one room, me in another; a quiet repast that, in the end, will bring is together again.

Then after dinner, when the table is cleared and my mind has wound down from one day's adventures, I set it all up to start again the next day.

And do you know what the miracle in all of this is? While I'm setting up for the next day, I'm smiling. Really, truly smiling.
I love this.
I love this.
I love this.

Every moment is teachable, my friends. And I'm grabbing them all, each and every one. Sometimes I have two students and other times  I am the student.

And it's all good. It's amazingly good.

When I can go through a full day that is mentally challenging and emotionally taxing, and still get ready for the next one with a smile on my face and a sureness of purpose in my heart......
                                                       I know I'm doing the right thing.