Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Normal

Greetings from the land of dog tired, bone tired, crazy all the damn time tired.

Oh and did I mention, I finally got that job I'd so been longing for?  It's a damn good job, working for a company that I feel really, really good about.  A certified B Corp.  Working with and for people who have heart and integrity. In a really lovely environment, with seriously incredible benefits.

But. My new normal is leaving the house before 7 am and often not returning until after 7 pm.  My new normal is 2 buses to get me there, and 2 buses to get me home.  But  how wonderful it is to not be stuck in traffic every day (as a driver, anyway)! And how wonderful it is to have a regular paycheck again, and to no longer have the incredible stress of not having a job!!

But.  Losing my last job was stressful.  Looking for a job and not finding one was stressful.  And, having a job, at least, this one, brings its own kind of stress.  Mainly in that I don't have nearly the time that I used to for having fun in the kitchen.  Which makes me very cranky.  But.  The upside is that the little mister is spending more time in the kitchen, and between us, we are piecing it together.  And that's an unexpected bonus. So at the end of the day, I'm tired and sometimes cranky, but usually I'm still pretty well fed, which is no small achievement. And I'm also trying to see the big picture, to realize that I need to give myself time to adapt, and that everything will likely feel chaotic for awhile, but that it won't be like this forever.  And in the meantime, I'm trying to always remember to breathe.  And enjoying my new friend the crock pot!  Which is very handy for making big pots of black beans, that go perfect with rice and can be eaten all week long.  I made them for the second time today and they were dynamite, so I'll have to post the recipe soon.

For now, my recliner, and then my bed, are beckoning.  Until I next come up for air, happy holidays to you and yours!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hello, Crockpot! (aka Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder)

I can hardly believe I made it this far in life without my very own slow cooker.  I have nearly every kitchen appliance known to man - some requiring electricity, some simply requiring muscle. From the immersion blender to the ancient salad spinner that I've had since 1990, to my super duper trusty Vitamix blender that blends so utterly mightily.  I've got a rice cooker, a ricer, a pressure cooker, a clay tagine, a food processor, a mini chopper, a mortar & pestle, an electric mixer, an ice cream maker.

But somehow, I never had a slow cooker, until now, that is. And while I wait, and wait, and wait, and wait a little bit more for potential employers to decide they might actually want to hire me, I cook, and bake, and stew, and chop, and slice, and dice.  And slow cook.  In preparation for that job that I'll have any day now, that will take away all this time I have to cook.

So naturally, until the little mister decides to learn how to expand his culinary repertoire, I'm thinking I should make friends with the slow cooker.  Especially now that the cooler weather is coming.  I like the idea of long, slow braises and stews.

The maiden slow cooker voyage: pork shoulder.  Marinated overnight in a nice, herby rub featuring toasted fennel seeds, garlic and rosemary.  Cooked for a good 8 hours on low with apples & onions that later became gravy.  Oh yeah.  Piled over a mound of smashed potatoes, parsnips, leeks and roasted garlic.  Who wouldn't want to come home to this after a long day of working and commuting?  Well, possibly a vegetarian, but I think we are going to have fun coming up with good ideas for them, too.  But in the meantime, should you feel a need for slow cooked pork coming on, I've got just the thing for you.

I based my recipe on this one from the excellent blog Simply Recipes,  but made a few key changes, adding fresh thyme, and herbs de provence, plus a bit of worcestershire sauce and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  And cooking it in the crockpot instead of the oven.  The final product was every bit as divine as they said it would be, holy cow.  Or pig, as it were.

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Savory Apple Gravy
(Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes)


3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, sinew and excess fat (beyond 1/4 inch) trimmed
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de provence
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, lightly chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoons Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Olive oil
2 medium good cooking apples, such as Fuji or Jonagold (I used granny smith)
1 medium yellow onion
Few sprigs thyme
1/2 cup red wine (can sub water)
Few splashes worcestershire sauce
About 1-2 T. brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

1 Put the fennel seeds, peppercorns, herbs de provence and rosemary leaves, garlic and salt into a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind to a paste. Alternatively, you can pound the mixture with a mortar and pestle. Put the mixture into a bowl and stir in 1 T. olive oil.

2 Rub the mixture evenly all over the pork shoulder. If the roast is tied, untie it to rub the inside with the rub mixture as well, then retie it. Wrap the roast tightly in plastic wrap to hold the rub against the skin and marinate overnight (or up to two days).

3 Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each apple half into about 4 wedges. Peel the onions. Cut in half from tip to root. Trim the root and tip. Cut the onion into thin wedges. Put the onions and the apples together in a bowl and toss to mix.

4 Toss the apples and onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Place the apples and onions in the bottom of the crock pot.  Scatter the thyme sprigs on top.

5 Brown the pork in a dutch oven over medium high heat, for about 5 minutes on each side.  If you want, you can deglaze the pot with a few splashes of wine.

6 Place the browned pork shoulder on top of the apples and onions in the slow cooker, add the wine and the deglazed bits from the pan, plus a few splashes of worcestershire sauce and a light sprinkling of brown sugar.  Cook on low for roughly 8 hours, until the pork shoulder is falling apart tender and pulls apart easily when probed with a fork.  Then switch the setting to warm and let it sit for another couple of hours.  You won't believe how amazing your house smells.

7 Transfer the pork shoulder to a serving plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Put the apples and onions into a blender. Add about 1/4 cup water and the mustard and purée. Check the texture, and add water until you get the desired thickness for the gravy. Press through a sieve for a silky smooth textured gravy. Check the seasoning and correct to taste.  Serve over a mound of mashed potatoes & parsnips.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good Things Grow

Howdy and Happy Summer!

Wow, that last post was depressing.  But sometimes, that's just where we find ourselves.  Lately I've been finding myself putting on my fancy interviewing dress, and what some might consider a respectable pair of shoes.  And possibly, by the time I'm hired for my next fabulous job, I might have finally figured out how to comfortably walk in said shoes!  I don't know how you ladies out there walk in heels on a regular basis.  I'm way more comfortable in my dusty cowboy boots, but sometimes we have to push ourselves to embrace that place outside of our comfort zone.  And that's where I've been hanging out lately.

I'm happy to say that I've also been hanging out on the hiking trail with my trusted four legged pal Stella, and I've been spending a lot more time in the kitchen, too.  Oh, the things I have baked and fried and frozen, sautéed and chopped and diced and sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with olive oil!  Chocolate ice cream from scratch, roasted eggplant, triple ginger cookies, macaroni and cheese, lemon confit, roasted chicken, organic peach sorbet and all kinds of grilled things, thanks to our new-to-us gas grill that I found on Craigslist for $25!  Like many of us, it just needed a TLC to sparkle and shine.

I've also been spending more time in the garden, sweet garden. Our garden this year is humble but mighty.  We've been enjoying some of the best tomatoes we've ever grown, and chives and chard and lettuces and zucchini, always zucchini!  You cannot escape the zucchini!!

It occurred to me recently that the job search is not unlike the planting of a garden.  You plant your seeds, show up, pay attention, water, pull weeds and do the best you can with what you've got.  There are some forces you can't control, like the elements.  And some forces you might only narrowly be able to control, like critters.  But chances are good that if you're doing your best and paying attention and feeding the soil, good things will grow.  And when I've found myself feeling overwhelmed or discouraged with the job search, I've found it comforting to think of each resume and cover letter as a seed that I am planting in good faith. Who knows what will sprout out of it?  Maybe a new amazing adventure, possibly nothing at all.  But you just keep planting, and showing up, and paying attention, and doing the best you can with what you've got to work with, and just like in the garden, good things are bound to grow.  That feels like a good way to look at things right about now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Life, Death and Unexpected Gifts

Life sure keeps on being interesting.  The seasons pass.  The garden grows.  The days grow longer, and then shorter.  The squash keep growing no matter what else is happening.  Couldn't stop those squash from growing if you tried.  It's a welcome diversion from death, job loss and general uncertainty.

But yeah, I lost my dear friend Scott, and I lost my job.  And I got rear-ended 3 times in a little over a month. I care way more about the friend than the job or the car, but there's been a lot of uncertainty, more than I even have words for.  Death has a way of shaking you up, of bringing everything into focus, of showing you what matters, and also showing you that no matter what you may think you know, you really don't know anything about anything.  Except that life is short, and that you should always attempt to spend it celebrating the people you love, who are right here, right now.  And that you should never assume you'll have another chance to celebrate that love while the ones you love are still alive.  Because they could be gone in an instant, and so could you.

Death also brings some unexpected gifts, like being able to spend countless hours with the family of the dear friend who has passed, and to get to know them in a new way.  And getting to spend time meeting so many people who were deeply touched by the friend who has gone, hearing their stories, laughing with them, crying with them.  I'm honored that I've been able to help Scott's family, to meet more of his friends, and to celebrate his life.  I'm happy that I was able to share some of my life with him, especially recently.  And if I hadn't lost my job, I wouldn't have had nearly as much time to be present for all of this, so I'm mindful that there are unexpected gifts in all kinds of places.  And thankful for every one of them.

If you asked for my advice, I would tell you this:  Go call that friend or family member that you've been meaning to check in with. Tell them you love them, bring them soup or a flower, or send them a card if you are far away.  If you can see them in person, hold their hand if they are hurting.  Tell them that they are perfect just the way that they are.  Laugh with them, and do it right now.  Because now is really all we have.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gardening Happens When You're Making Other Plans

Well hello there, strangers.  Do I begin every entry that way these days?

There is so much I've wanted to tell you about.  Like, it's May 27th and already, we're enjoying squash and basil from our garden, and lemon zest from the very first lemon from the tree we planted when we moved in here nearly three years ago.  Triumphant.  Worthy of celebration.  You plant things and do your best, and hope and have faith, and show up at least most of the time to water and pull weeds.  And  sometimes you get fruits from your labors.  And vegetables.

(Imagine a lovely photo of a perfectly tender heirloom squash, vibrant basil, and plump lemon inserted here)

Especially in the case of zucchini, it's easy to feel like you know what you are doing, as if you might possibly have some inkling of control.  Pop the starters into a sunny spot in the ground, give it a bit of potting soil, water most of the time, and before you know it, boom.  If you aren't careful, you have giant squash the size of baseball bats threatening to take over your life.  Yes, even you, who thought you didn't know squat about gardening.

Did you remember to stop & give thanks for the fact that at least something something grows, something thrives and refuses to be held back despite all the things that life throws at us? Despite the latest war, or the fact that every time you turn around, it seems someone dear to you is ill, or dying, or dead, trying to recover or just hanging on by a thread?

Well these days, I am.  I am thankful for the squash, and the lemons, and the chard that is not completely healthy, yet not completely withered either.  And the basil, potent and strong.  And the flowers on the tomato and pepper plants, bringing hope for brighter, warmer times to come. Bringing hope for new life in the face of loss.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Family Dinner

Tonight's post was inspired by the awesome, talented & inspiring Shauna at Gluten Free Girl, who recently encouraged people to share their experiences about family dinner.  Shauna & Danny, her partner in life, love and the kitchen, are celebrating the release of a new cookbook that I cannot wait to get my hands on.  I've been reading Shauna's words for years, swooning over her stories and recipes, always in awe of the way she manages to cut straight to the core of my heart, no matter what kind of tale she is telling.  I'm not gluten free but the recipes she and Danny create are recipes that sing to me.  These two know food, and love food, and love sharing their creations, and that inspires me greatly on so many levels.

So as it turned out, tonight, we had dinner with a few dear friends.  Spontaneous.  Throw some stuff on the grill.  Bring what ya got and we'll combine it with what we've got, and dinner will be born.  And it was lovely and a feast beyond delicious.  Grilled asparagus with roasted red peppers marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Grilled fish & sausages, and two kinds of salads.  One was a slaw with red cabbage, parsley, pickled jalapeños & cider vinegar that I make a lot in the summertime.  Spicy, salty, crunchy, and the perfect accompaniment to anything grilled.  And then, since I had all the ingredients, I made this Barefoot Contessa recipe for celery hearts marinated in an anchovy & lemon vinaigrette, topped with shaved parmesan & fresh parsley.  And whoa and wow!!  It pretty much made everyone stop & re-think everything we may have ever thought about celery as the star of the show.  Or rather, it made everyone think that celery actually *can* be the star of the show. I'm pretty sure I'll be making this salad every chance I get.  It was that good.

But, I kind of digress.  We were talking about family dinner.  My family always had them, and I guess I took them for granted.  And same with the little mister.  Whether you showed up on time or not, in both of our families, family dinner happened.   And it was expected that you would be there and participate, whether that meant helping prep the food, or setting the table, or clearing the table, or just talking about your day.  Even though we ate a lot of delicious and comforting foods at our table, it wasn't so much about what was being served, as about being together at the table.  The showing up at the table was a consistent part of both of our upbringings, and it's a tradition that we have carried into our respective adulthoods and our life together.  And although our family consists of just the two of us and our dogs, we are lucky to have a wide circle of wonderful friends who frequently join us for spontaneous gatherings, showing up with with a little something or other to combine with our little something or other, and together we make our feast.

Tonight was one of those spontaneous dinner nights.  We all sat around the table discussing our upbringings and our experiences of family dinners, and I learned that both the mister and I are very lucky indeed that we had parents who showed up at all, parents who cared enough to feed us and talk to us and wanted to know about our days. I think I always took it for granted that this was just what people did. I know now that every family is different, and I feel lucky for the one that I was born into, that I am still fortunate to be a part of, even though we are scattered all over the place these days.  When we do come together, gathering around the table is still a huge part of our experience, and I am so, so grateful for that.  And when I can't be with the family that I was born into, I feel lucky for the wonderful friends that have become family in their own way.

So three cheers for family dinner, whatever family means to you, and whatever your dinner is like. And three cheers for the new Gluten Free Girl cookbook, which I can hardly wait to dig into!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Testing, 1...2...3...

...is this thing on?

Wait, hang on.  I've got to wipe off the dust.  And the cobwebs.  Yep, it's been awhile. It's been a good, long, while.  A long dark winter.  They say it's officially spring now, but I've barely peeked my head out from under the covers to see if it's true.

There's so much I've wanted to show up here & share with you, like citrus salad with olive oil, feta, tarragon & shallots.  A bright and juicy, salty & sweet addition to brighten up any drab winter day.

And a cold winter trip to Toronto, where, among other things, I got to eat at Momofuku, when I wasn't busy trying to get my nose hairs to unthaw.

And then suddenly it wasn't quite winter anymore, and I found myself driving through the southwest on a solo journey, wearing sundresses & flip flops, stopping at every thrift store along the way, and breathing in the solitude, sunshine, and dust.  Breathing it all in deeply.  Cause sometimes we get so caught up in the white noise of the every day, we forget to breathe at all.  That's about what I've been doing for the last many months.  Holding my breath.

But this kind of scenery, and time with cherished family & friends helped me to remember to breathe out, and then in again.  And so on.  And so here I am coming up for air, with tales untold, waving hello from an imperfect world.