WRITTEN ON May 12th, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Uncategorized

It's so easy being cheesy

My first week in the ‘burbs has been cold and rainy.  Which would be fine if I hadn’t been completely psycho and unpacked pretty much everything the day after we moved.  So basically it’s left me with lots of time to wander around my house, making mental lists of what I need (but can no longer afford, having purchased the aforementioned house), and to cook.  That part feels pretty great.  I asked the hubster that he wanted for dinner the other night and I could see him visibly relax, thinking to himself, “finally, things are back to normal.  My wife is being nice to me again and I might actually get fed this week.”

One thing I’ve noticed about the ‘burbs?  The quiet.  And we don’t even live in a secluded area.  We are firmly in the village. Neighbors when you look our your window. School buses. Thru traffic. Yet I’ve grown so accustomed to sirens and honking and bars letting out at 4 a.m. and “hey asshole, move your friggin’ car!”  So though I was always by myself on the days I wasn’t working, out here I feel somehow more “alone,” which of course makes me think of my loved ones.

Growing up, I was part of a small family.  At home, it was just my parents, my brother and me. My aunt and uncle were always in the mix, as well as my grandmother, but that still made for a pretty intimate holiday table.  As a result, our friends became our family; I am lucky enough to have no less than three Godmothers, one fantastic Godfather, lots of fake cousins and other assorted characters. They rounded out our table (indeed, our lives) and our home, and became part of the scenery just as any “real” family member would.

Though my mother has undoubtedly been the biggest influence in my life, through her I have been exposed to so many other strong, smart and hilarious women who have become part of my own inner circle.  When I think about it, very few are Mom’s childhood friends, in fact, most are women who became her “grown-up” friends.

My aunt Sally is one of these women. She’s the one who took me shopping for that prom dress my mom wouldn’t spring for, and then took me to the tailor to let me get it shortened. She fed me my first sushi, took me to my first spa, and definitely gave me my first champagne (though she let my mom help me clean up the puke later that night).  She was the aunt that all my friends wished they had, the one I was always proud to call mine. I can see parts of my personality that mimic hers: a certain zest for life, an insatiable appetite for fun, a generally sunny demeanor and a charming tendency to be just a bit over-indulgent. As I’ve gotten older, she’s become not only my family but my friend, there for me through thick and thin, the way I always will be for her. She is one of the most important people in my life, and that will never change.

These twice baked potatoes always remind me of Sally.  Our Christmas dinner is the same every year, standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding.  But my dear aunt, who lives by the rule of “nothing succeeds like excess,” would, in addition to crab dip and pate and shrimp and profiteroles for dessert, always make sure there were massive, two ton twice baked’s, just in case there was someone in the family who a) didn’t like Yorkshire, or b) was worried they might starve. It makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Through all the craziness of holiday dinners and family fights and getting people to sit down and shut up (not likely), Sally wore a smile and kept everyone’s glasses filled to the brim.

It’s weird to think of being somewhere other than Baltimore for family times now. I guess I’ll have to get used to that, along with the quiet (and the Juicy suits). But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that you are never too old to make another best friend, that family actually has very little to do with blood, and that you can find both, anywhere, as long as you keep your eyes open.

That's one hot potato

Twice Baked Potatoes (makes 4 potato halves)
2 russet (Idaho) baking potatoes
3 tbsp low fat sour cream
1/3 cup low fat milk
1 large handful shredded cheddar cheese
3 scallions, sliced thin
1 tbsp dijon mustard
3 dashes sriracha hot sauce
small handful chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400.  With a fork, pierce potatoes in several places.  This will allow steam to escape while cooking.  Bake directly on oven rack, in middle of oven, until soft, about 45-60 minutes. In the meantime, combine all over ingredients in a large bowl. When potatoes are done, slice in half lengthwise (be very careful not to burn yourself!).  Scoop out the flesh into the bowl of prepared ingredients. Mash gently with a potato masher or fork until incorporated but still chunky (do not over mash, they will become gluey).  Spoon filling back into potato shells, place in a glass baking dish. Bake in oven about 15 more minutes until golden on top.

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