Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Depression

Years ago I had a baby. I fell head over heels in love with him from the moment I laid eyes on his little frog face. But just as much – I fell in love with the me as a mama. This cynical, wise ass 36 year old woman became softer, glass half filled with sunshine and rainbows . I fell in love with the world for the first time it seemed – all the babies, all the hope and sweetness that they bring, and I was very aware of this new lens in which I viewed things.

I wanted more of that...as if I instinctively knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last. And sure enough it didn’t. As my baby became a toddler with opinions on things – I could feel that harder, crustier me returning - the softness drying up like paint left on a brush in the sun.

Unsuccessful at becoming pregnant again, I filled the void with a horse named Faith. She saw the softness still left in me – and though she could be high strung – she was particularly soft with my rambunctious toddler.

Then suddenly, I was pregnant. The world was going to be rainbows and sunshine again. Until it wasn’t. At my 9 week appointment I saw the technician’s face draw into a thin line while she was doing the ultrasound. My baby had died, though my boobs and cravings apparently had no idea.

The softness got confused. Turned hard. Why did that happen to me?

Then almost a year later, a baby girl was growing inside of me. A vivacious one according to her heartbeat and ultrasounds. I was four months pregnant, filled with rainbows and sunshine again, about to leave for vacation with my husband and son when the doctor called. The genetic testing had come back with a giant red flag. It would take 3 excruciating weeks to confirm that my baby girl had a fatal genetic condition called Trisomy 18. And just a week before my 40th birthday, I had to let her go.

The softness was gone. I didn’t know what to do with the pain. It clung on my back like an alien with 40 arms and legs, biting into me. I picked up running, but I kept seeing my baby girl’s limbs in the twigs on the sidewalk and would almost twist my ankles trying not to step on them.

Why did that have to happen to me?

One day when I was so sick and tired from crying I googled quickest way to kill yourself. Then I would see my husband and son playing and feel even guiltier that I was so depressed. And guess what – the depression lapped it all up with a spoon. Hashtag WINNING.

The summer from hell ended but the pain was still there. I would get better – even have weeks go by where I felt okay and didn’t randomly burst into tears from hearing a certain note in a song or a movie come on that I had watched while I was pregnant with her. But then out of nowhere the pain would back, more vicious and stronger than before. As if it had just taken a break to pump weights and pound steroids for another go at me.

I began to get really worried. I looked up grief counselors but while reading about them would become really turned off by the idea. After all, some days I felt fine so why would I want to dredge it all up again?

And to boot, my toddler was now a full on little DUDE with the attitude to boot. With every tantrum I would say ridiculous things to myself like ‘Tuesday would never have done this…’

Through it all there were the horses. By now I had bought another one – a gelding I renamed Woody. He had a bad habit of avoiding loading into the trailer so we sent him to a horse whisperer for a month. When we went to pick him up we got to watch Ben work his magic.

Back at home I had been fighting Woody’s resistance with force. If he avoided the trailer I’d correct him with a lunge whip. If he reared, I would make him back up a hundred miles per hour to teach him that was wrong. And guess what – I had been doing it wrong. Watching Ben work I saw no force or anger. I saw softness.

His first attempt to lead Woody into my trailer, Woody did his usual half hop to the side followed by a half-hearted rear. And to my horror, Ben just kind of slumped next to the trailer, his shoulders melted down into his chest as he became COMPLETELY slack. For a second I thought he was having a stroke. And then Woody quieted and he calmly asked him to load again. And after a couple of hesitant steps, he did.

SOFTNESS.

Ben loves to quote one of his mentors – the great Ray Hunt – who said, ‘Expect a horse to be good and they’ll be good. Expect them to be bad and they won’t disappoint you.’

I think about this every time I work with Woody now. I try and channel that softness. I tell him he’s a good boy. And he is.

The depression has waned. And now when I look back on my lost babies and ponder that same question ‘why did this have to happen to me?’ – I think I have an answer. I think I know what they were her for, even if just for a short time.

To remind me to be soft.



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Contest Winning Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies


Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

I made these last week for our holiday office party cookie competition and as the title suggests - won! This is a Martha Stewart recipe worth its weight in gold. I made two adjustments to the original formula, doubling the molasses and using salted butter instead of unsalted. Doubling the molasses makes for a chewier cookie. If you prefer it less so then use half the amount listed below.

I'm not gonna lie. This recipe is a commitment. There are two chilling stages and the dough requires fresh grated ginger in addition to ground as well as hand chopped semi sweet chocolate. But if you have the time they are worth it. I worried they wouldn't be pretty enough to win so I 'glued' them into a wreath shape with melted chocolate and sprinkled them with edible glitter. The glitter made it easy to tell who had eaten a cookie that day. It was EVERYWHERE. We laughed that the gents were going to have some explaining to do when they got home as to why they were covered in 'titty glitter' ;)

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Lightly adapted from Martha Stewart
*notice there are no eggs in this recipe - apparently the molasses does the job of tenderizing

Ingredients:
7 oz semi sweet chocolate bar, hand-chopped into 1/4 inch chunks (I'm not that particular about the size - I aim to make 'chocolate rubble')
1 1/2 cups AP flour, plus 1 tablespoon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used fresh)
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter, at room temp
1 tablespoon fresh grated (peeled) ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar or sanding sugar and/or edible glitter for rolling in

Directions:
  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa. 
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined. 
  3. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more. 
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough into 1 1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jalapeño Cheeseburger Salad


Don't judge me. It's not like I put potato chips on it (though that would be genius.) You can add or take away whatever sound good to you. Bacon would be great or even corn or olives or avocado. And there's no need to make your own quick pickles like I did - I just happened to be out of the jarred variety.

Jalapeño Cheeseburger Salad
* Serves 3

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3/4-1 pound ground beef
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, or more to taste
1 medium tomato, chopped and lightly pressed with a paper towel to remove excess moisture
1/2 cup chopped whole pickles or 'quick pickles' - 1/2 medium cucumber chopped and mixed with a couple splashes apple cider vinegar, small pinch salt and large pinch sugar - allow to sit 15 min

Dressing:
1/3 cup mayo
3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard, or to taste
3 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño (from a jar or can)
pinch salt

How To:
If you don't have jarred pickles on hand, now is the time to make your quick cucumber pickle (above) and set aside.

Add a splash of olive oil to a nonstick skillet and put over medium heat. Add the shallots and season with a pinch of salt, sauté for a few minutes until they soften. Add the beef to the skillet along with another pinch salt and pepper, break up with a wooden spoon and cook until brown stirring frequently - about 12 minutes.

Next prepare your dressing by mixing together the mayo, mustard, jalapeño and salt. Set aside.

To a large bowl, add the shredded lettuce, cheese, tomato and pickles. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss. Add the meat and shallots and toss again, then a couple tablespoons of the dressing and repeat. Taste and make any adjustments necessary per dressing, salt or pepper. More cheese never hurts.



Monday, June 1, 2015

Zoodles with Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Walnuts and Fresh Mint


I bought a Spiralizer a few months back convinced I was going to get my shit together. You know - eater better, workout, read poetry. But we all know how the story ends. For now I'm content I finally pulled it out of the drawer, dusted it off and put it to use.

It's really kind of genius. Easy to use and as fast as an electric gadget. I made zucchini 'zoodles' this morning before work, stuck them in the fridge and pulled them back out again to use in a dinner I pulled together in less than 20 minutes.

Recipe-wise this is like a cross between a veggie soup and pasta. A little brothy-er than pasta because there's no starch to thicken the sauce plus the salt needed to season the zoodles makes them release more liquid. But it's delicious. Satisfyingly toothsome with a delicious broth you'll want to slurp. And while the mint sounds weird - don't skip it if you have it on hand. It really makes it.

Zoodles with Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Walnuts and Fresh Mint

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil, or enough to just coat a medium dutch oven, plus more for finishing
1/2 cup chopped onion
small pinch kosher salt
3/4 pound spicy Italian sausage (ground and loose)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, rubbed between your fingers
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
Scant 1/2 can (of tomato can) dry white wine
3 oz goat cheese, or more for a 'creamier' broth
3 large, or 4 medium zuchinni, 'spiralized' on the smallest setting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped

How To:
Add the tablespoon olive oil (or as much as needed to coat bottom of pan) to a medium dutch oven and bring over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and a small pinch kosher salt and sauté, stirring frequently until soft - about 4 minutes.

Add the sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon, and cook another 10 minutes stirring often until cooked through. Season with garlic powder, nutmeg, and thyme and stir to incorporate. Stir in the tomatoes (and juice) and white wine. Bring to a boil and boil for 60 second. Reduce heat to low/medium and stir in the goat cheese. At this point add the zoodles and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover for 4-5 minutes to help steam, then slowly stir them into the sauce until all is incorporated.

To serve, portion into bowls (you'll need to spoon additional sauce from the pan as it will be runny) and top with toasted walnuts and chopped mint. Drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil to finish and eat right away.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sourdough Crumpets from Starter

                               
I can't vouch for these being genuine crumpets as I've never had one before but I can vouch for them being a perfect cross between an English muffin and a sourdough bagel. I can also vouch for the fact they're going to be a problem for me. They are just too damn good. Full disclose as to how I ended up making them. They were supposed to be hamburger buns. Or at least so the recipe told me. And while they did the job they were a little too dense for a classic hamburger bun. But the next morning after being popped into the toaster and smeared with butter and jam I found their true calling. Breakfast!

They have that unmistakable sourdough tanginess, a chewy bagel like exterior and yet a soft yielding inside filled with all sorts of mysterious nooks and crannies that equal fluffy bread heaven.

If you're afraid of keeping a sourdough starter - don't be. Seriously if I can do it anyone can. For example, Kris is on this kick of bringing home succulents for the house. And while I love them, I die a little inside every time he buys a new one because I just know that sucker is gonna die on my watch. I've killed literally eight in the past three months.

So trust me when I say if I can keep a sourdough starter alive, so can you. A trick to avoiding the headache of maintaining a starter is to keep it in the fridge instead of at room temp. That way if I forget to 'feed' it for a couple of weeks it's totally fine. On that note feeding your starter isn't scary at all. You basically remove a cup of stirred starter from your batch and either use or throw away then replenish it with a cup each of flour and water (though I tend to use less water sometimes when I think mine's getting too liquid.)

Is 'too liquid' proper grammar? Google's not correcting me so I'm going with it. Anyway if you like to bake, you are always just a few hours away from something hot from the oven. Pretty good payout for letting something just hang out in your refrigerator.

That said 'starting' it is a different story. Not difficult but it has a few steps and involves actually following directions which I'm not always great at much less while chasing after a 19 month old. Anyway I bought mine online from King Arthur and followed the instructions here.

So back to this bagel/English muffin situation. Mine didn't rise that much before baking (probably because I didn't wait for my starter to come to room temp first.) In fact I was pretty much convinced I was making little sourdough flatbreads but then they rose and puffed in the oven and became crumpet like.

One bit of advice is to not over bake them. Once the bottom edges are golden brown - get those suckers out!

Sourdough Crumpets
*adapted from Sparkle People
*yields about 10 crumpets though recipe easily doubles if needed

1 cup sourdough starter (well stirred and if you have the time, at room temp)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil (gently heated to liquid state) or vegetable oil
1 egg yolk (plus one additional egg for the wash)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-5 cups flour, or more (be sure to use the spoon and sweep method for measuring)

Mix all but the flour together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Add half the flour and mix well then gradually add the rest by small increments until the mixture is hard to stir but all the flour is incorporated. Flour a large clean surface and turn the dough out. Kneed, turn over and pressing across with the palm of your hand several times (adding flour as necessary to keep the dough and/or hands from sticking) until the dough is pliable, cohesive and springy. I know this sounds weird but I know my dough has come together when I can gently yet firmly smush and pat it together into a ball and when I pat it like a baby's butt it stays sort of puffed and proud in that shape.

Oil a clean bowl lightly and place the dough inside turning over to coat. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and place in a warm place (I never have a 'warm' place so I turn my oven on to 350 for 5 minutes then shut it off for 5 minutes before putting the bowl in. If it still feels hot either wait a little longer or leave the door open.) Leave until doubled (though to be honest after 3 hours mine hadn't doubled or even risen significantly so don't fret and press on if that happens to you as mine turned out great.)

Punch down and let rest another 15 minutes. Pinch off pieces of dough that when rolled lightly between your palms are about the size of a medium lemon. Place at least two inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Cover with kitchen towels and return to a warm place for 30 minutes or as long as you need until ready to bake.

Preheat your oven to 375. Remove the towels from the crumpets and brush lightly with an egg wash (one egg mixed well with a hefty splash of milk.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes until edges are just light golden brown. Remove and transfer to a cooling rack. These will keep in an airtight container for 3 days. They would probably freeze well too!





Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Stew with Kalamata Olives


The healthy, elegant people at Aloha inspired me to share some winter tips for staying healthy. Living in Austin, my winter routine isn't that different from my spring, summer or even fall routine. I walk outside as much as possible, do yoga when I can and cook often. I don't fret about things like cooking with butter or heavy cream as long as I'm adding them to a vegetable (or at least there's a vegetable involved.)

But this year we've actually had a winter. I feel dirty writing that given it's nothing like what the Northeast has had but for us Austinites...it's been real. It's even had me researching cozy winter stews that also satisfy a hangry appetite like mine. And here is the queen of them all.

When I first made this recipe, lightly adapted from Cookin' Canuck, I fully expected to have to add parmesan cheese to make it edible. I thought it was going to taste like it sounded...healthy.

Wrong. Maybe it's the use of chicken thighs instead of breasts that gives it so much flavor. Maybe it's the comforting, soft bite of the sweet potatoes followed by the salty punch from the kalamata olives.

Or maybe it was simply a lesson that not everything has to have parmesan cheese in it. Who knew?

The original recipe uses butternut squash but because I had a surplus of sweet potatoes from Johnon's Backyard Garden, I used them instead. I also browned the chicken thighs instead of simmering them because I'm lazy and it was one less step. Next time I might even try skipping steaming the sweet potatoes first since happiness truly is only having to clean one pot after dinner.

Hopefully soon we'll be swapping winter stews for spring inspired dishes.

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Stew with Kalamata Olives

Adapted from original recipe by 
Serves 6
Ingredients
  • 1½ lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ⅔ cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup pitted and quartered kalamata olives, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • ¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley plus extra for garnish
Instructions
  1. Steam the sweet potatoes until tender, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to a large dutch oven and set over medium heat, add the chicken. Sauté until just brown on all sides, about 4-6 minutes.
  3. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate and set aside.
  4. Add more olive oil if necessary just to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions. Cook stirring often (still over medium heat) until soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes.
  5. Add the salt, oregano and garlic. Cook, stirring often for another 2 minutes.
  6. Add the sweet potatoes, bay leaf, nutmeg, tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer.
  7. Add the chicken back to the pot and bring to a boil for two minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer, add the quinoa, cover and cook until the quinoa turns translucent, about 15 minutes.
  8. At this point you can carefully remove and shred the chicken (or at least break it up with a wooden spoon as I do because I'm lazy.)
  9. Stir in the olives, red pepper if using and 1/4 cup parsley.
  10. Taste for seasoning and serve with additional parsley.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Marvelous Zuchinni Muffins. Tops like a sugar cookie, bottoms like a crumb cake.


It's amazing to me that just now, with Sawyer edging towards 17 months, I JUST now feel like I have control of my life again. And that said, now that he's in his second round of teething - that's even debatable most days.

Yet I feel kind of giddy that last Friday evening after a crazy workday, I managed to dream up this recipe and have it turn out as well as it did. It's so classic - I have no less than a couple hundred cookbooks and yet I couldn't find the trusty zuchinni bread recipe I made last. So I wrote down what I thought would work, set out the butter and eggs and went to bed, thinking I'd likely be tossing my experiment the next day. Quite the contrary - I don't think I'll make zuchinni bread or muffins from another recipe for a long time to come.

You can dress these up for winter with a hit of orange zest (or a grating of fresh ginger) or for summer with some lemon zest or just make them exactly as is. I do have to tell you, they are more of an adult muffin recipe as they have a nice mildly salty bite to them. Kris and I love a little salt in our sweets and in my opinion, the flavor balance here is perfect. But it gives them a more complex taste than most super sweet muffins - not that this bothered Sawyer Lee in the least. He LOVES them and to say he is picky is an understatement.

I hope you make them. The crust gets this amazing sugar cookie/oatmeal cookie texture while the center is dreamy and fluffy and soft. Eat them warm (micro the leftovers) with a pat of butter.

Marvelous Zuchinni Muffins
If you set out the butter and eggs the night before so you can literally whip this up in the morning in a half an hour. I was too lazy to get out my electric hand held mixer so I just whipped the butter an oil together by hand with a whisk. Totally worked but no doubt the hand held would be faster.

Ingredients:
1 stick salted butter, room temp (leave out the night before morning of baking)
1/2 cup oil (I use Spectrum Canola/Coconut blend) though vegetable or canola would work
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if using table salt, 1/2 teaspoon)
2 eggs, room temp and beaten
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup grated zuchinni, pressed with a towel to remove excess moisture
1/2 cup chopped pecans
20-24 muffin liners, optional, or baking/nonstick spray

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream the softened butter and oil with a handheld mixer until smooth. Add in the sugar and cream again until well blended.

In a separate (smaller) bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Fold into the sugar/oil/butter mixture in three additions until combined. Stir in the eggs then vinegar, zuchinni and pecans.

Fill prepared muffin tins (either lined with muffin cups or sprayed with nonstick spray, number depending on size of your muffins tins but usually between 20-24) 3/4 the way full and bake at 375 for 15-17 minutes, just until tops are very light gold and cake tester comes out clean/with crumbs rather than wet batter when poked down the center.

Serve right away with butter or let cool completely and store in an airtight container up to 3 days.