A Week in the Life

I did something different this week.  All last week, I took very low-key, not styled, not properly lighted pics of most dinners we had (otherwise known as iPhone pics), as well as a few breakfasts and side dishes.  I was asked by a couple of people to talk about the more day-to-day things we eat.  So I stripped everything down of any pretension and decided to show you exactly what we ate for a little over a week.  If you will hover over each image, you will see a description.  Lunch pics are not mysteriously absent – we eat leftovers every. single. day. for lunch and I really only took a pic of one of the lunches because they are literally a repeat, usually, of the night before.  My goal for the end of the week is to have a clean fridge, and for the most part, I achieve that goal.  And the other absent pics are from when we went out or had dinner at our church or whatever.  I vowed a while back to stop taking pics of my food at restaurants.  You should do everyone a favor and do the same.  Some recipes make a large portion like the brown sugar ham – made a TON!  So I used it in savory crepes yesterday for lunch, diced up with cheese and chives.  Voila – a simple lunch and CHEAP.  Breakfasts are really low key.  I make Olive some type of oatmeal about twice a week, yogurt at least once or twice, the other week days are usually “baby beetos” (scrambled egg burritos) and then Saturdays, I nearly always make something a bit more fun and indulgent like waffles, pancakes, crepes, whathaveyou.

Some of these pics look downright unappealing.  But in reality, this is what our plates look like!  Never picture-perfect, bad lighting in the dining room, no one styling our food, etc.  I plan on blogging about a few of these recipes (the pea puree – oh my word, it was awesome), but for now, I’ll leave you with exploring the descriptions and getting a peek inside a typical week around here!  
Dinner: Brown sugar ham, mashed potatoes and green peas with snow peasIMG_6405
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You Only Get One Night

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This post won’t have a recipe.  It’s about one night that we spent with our friends in Seattle this summer when we went on our big adventure.  This was our first full day exploring Seattle with our friends.  Little did we know the day before that Rod’s mother would pass away and he and Jill would have to abruptly alter their year-long travel plans and drive home the next day.  We had planned on enjoying another full week with our traveling companions and that week was reduced to just a few  hours.  We asked them what they’d like to do on their first and last night in Seattle and we all agreed that having a crab boil on the beach in Bainbridge Island where our hosts, the Ware family, lives, would be the best way to enjoy each others’ company and make some lasting memories for everyone and for Rod and Jill who would be going home the next day.IMG_5071
So we packed up all the needed supplies and we drove down to the beach.  We played in the sand and watched Ollie girl experience the ocean and sand between her toes for the first time.IMG_5060
There were long conversations sitting on logs overlooking the water and the amazing view of Mt. Rainier in the background with the glorious pink moon that was settling on the water as a backdrop for our meal together.seattle284seattle298

Mount Rainier and the rising moon in the same shot.  An other-worldly experience.seattle290 IMG_5050
We brought live crabs and potatoes, corn and sausages and got our water to boiling and while everything simmered, we played in the fading light of a very long and adventure-packed day.IMG_5047  seattle294
It was one of those nights you read about in books written about summertime.  It was like one giant cliche for how you’re supposed to spend your summer.  I’d never had the opportunity to do anything like it, being from a place where there’s no water in sight for miles.  And our lovely hosts knew exactly what to do to arrange a beautiful trip for us, and through their giving and sacrificing spirit, we had the time of our lives.  The whole trip, not just this night, was a dream!
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I had my first oyster – a briny, creamy and amazingly flavorful little creature that I will admit, I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated.  It gave me shivers – whatever that means.  But I’m glad in THAT place with THOSE people, that I tried something new and didn’t hold back from the experience.

Because, you see, you only get one night.

This evening is the last evening you’ll get to spend with the people you love.  It’s the last meal you will enjoy and it’s the last evening of doing whatever it is that you love with whomever you love most.  I’m not trying to be morbid, I just realize with new clarity that we are not guaranteed tomorrow and so today, tonight, this present moment is all we have.  How often we spend our days planning for tomorrow.  How often we waste our moments fretting about the past, what our lives should have been or could have been.  And every moment we do that is a moment wasted and gone forever.  Today is it.  You survived the night – how will you celebrate that fact today?IMG_5066
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The meal was amazing and we were salty and smelled like the sea from head to toe when we all piled back into the cars to go home.  I got to spend that night with some of my favorite people in the world and I’m glad that Rod and Jill got to experience such a perfect moment before having to cut their trip short to go home and deal with much more serious matters.  We snapped this picture right before we lost the light and I think it’s one of my favorite pictures from the trip.  I am forever grateful to the Wares for sharing their home, their beach and their city with us.  I think we spent our “one night” very well and I can say that I had no regrets or “should haves” on this trip.seattle295

Crustless Asparagus Quiche and the End of All Dieting

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I was first introduced to a savory custard by the wonderful food blogger, Helene Garcia of French Foodie Baby.  The first savory custard I made was her leek and chive flan and I was a bit afraid at first because we just have ingrained in our minds that custards and flans are supposed to be sweet, but this was a very happy and luxurious surprise.  Basically, in American terms, this is a crustless quiche.  Only waaaaay better of a texture than the quiche of your childhood.  Please do refer back to my quiche post on how its texture should be.  I was happy that it was such a silky texture and that Olive could eat it just fine with her limited spoon wielding skills.

I stumbled upon this asparagus and bacon custard in a book called French Women Don’t Get Fat, which I’m reading and working my way through the steps to reshape my life and my patterns of eating.  The book presents a bit of a strict start (a cleanse, which I don’t think is totally necessary for success, just optional) followed by three months of self evaluation of the patterns you’ve made over the years and ways in which you could cut back without feeling deprived.  After three months, by the book, you should only be HALF WAY to your goal weight.  If you are, then she advises to add back a few more pleasures and get on with your life!  If not, then keep going with the plan, making additional adjustments if necessary.

I’m happy to have finally found a book that doesn’t restrict you, doesn’t say that a particular food or food group is bad, and doesn’t push supplements.  I’m DONE with that vicious cycle of crash dieting and then giving up, gaining back and doing it all over again because every new diet makes a new promise.  Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?  I found myself having an epiphany the other day that a diet that promises you’ll lose all the weight you need to lose in a few weeks will only work if it only took you a few weeks to gain that weight.  And like me, I’m sure most of us with serious weight issues have struggled a BIT longer than weeks or even years with our weight.  So why does it not register in our minds that in order to keep a good, healthy weight, we should logically change the way we do things for 10-15 years at least?  Personally speaking, I’ve struggled with my weight for about twenty two years and most of that time was wasted, going through diet after diet that restricted too much, left me wanting and frustrated and ultimately, feeling like I am a loser and can never succeed.

After 11 days of following this book and eating what I personally feel was a bit too indulgent of a menu, I’m down seven pounds.  I know what you’re thinking: all water weight, and besides, wasn’t she just preaching that weight loss shouldn’t be sudden?!  You’re right, it shouldn’t.  But for one, I have a lot to lose and the more you have to lose, generally, the quicker you will drop pounds (at first).  Second, I’ve completely cut out all snacking and all second helpings.  Man, that adds up to a lot with just those two bad habits!  Especially if you snack several times a  day!  The only other thing I’ve given up has been cream in my coffee and that, for me, was the biggest challenge because I love my coffee.  But, for these first three months of “readjusting” how I do things, I don’t consider it that much of a burden to give up roughly 200 calories a day that used to be dedicated to cream in my coffee!  I have even started to prefer it black with just a little sweetner (stevia, for those concerned).  I haven’t been stressed about working out – I just have been taking more walks and enjoying the new, cooler fall weather and I’ve been pulling a few weeds here and there.  This is my new life.  I was done with diets a few years ago, but I was still engaging in bad habits.  It’s hard to undo years of emotional eating, but I’ve found that the distraction of Olive is a grand one.  Or, if I just HAVE to ingest something in the afternoon, I make a cup of cinnamon tea (it’s naturally sweet) and get productive!

This custard recipe was breakfast for a few days last week.  Again, I know what you will say.  This has cream, eggs, bacon AND it’s in a “diet” book?  Yep.  Moderation + Fulfilling Meals = Success.  Moderation + Drab, Restrictive Meals = Failure. I really recommend you picking up this book IF and only if you are done yo-yo dieting,  if you like to cook and you are ready to stop restricting yourself and feeling guilty for eating things like butter.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress and I hope that I can encourage some of you to stop the fad madness and just start “eating real food, not too much, mostly plants.” (from the omnivore’s dilemma) 🙂

Asparagus custards

Asparagus Custard (crustless quiche, if it makes you feel better to call it that)
makes 6 – 1 cup ramekin servings

16 asparagus spears, tough ends cut off and peeled
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
8 sprigs chives, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Boil the asparagus in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and let cool. Chop each stalk into a small dice and set aside.  Saute the bacon in a nonstick frying pan till crisp. Drain on paper towel and set aside.  Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl (reserving some chives for garnish). Pour the egg mixture into individual ramekins. Sprinkle in the asparagus and bacon. Bake for 15-20 minutes till the custard is set but not dried out.  Serve with pieces of toast, crackers, or with some fresh fruit and enjoy your day!

Cinnamon Oatmeal and Yogurt Pancakes

Cinnamon Oat Pancakes

I don’t believe in labeling food as “healthy” or “not healthy.”  I believe in good habits and bad habits.  I think it’s a bad habit to eat lots of refined sugar and processed junk that lives in a box on a shelf on a daily basis.  I think it’s a good habit to enjoy a totally sugar-laden cupcake once or twice a month and really enjoy the cuss out of it.  I think it’s a bad habit to eat fast food multiple times a week.  I think it’s a good habit to enjoy an amazing cheeseburger and fries on a weekend and have no regrets!   I think it’s a bad habit to let kids snack between meals on junk like salty fish shaped crackers and candy posing as “fruit.”  I think it’s a good habit to let your kids know what snack food is and that it is to be eaten once in a while and not every day and certainly not in place of a meal.  Good habits and bad habits – to heck with worrying about good foods and bad foods or worrying that I’m bad for having refined flour and sugar in the house.  If you really believe in the adage of “everything in moderation” you won’t run from these ingredients.  You’ll just put them in their time and place.

Because of the awesome blog by Dina Rose that I read on a regular basis, I am coming more and more into the understanding of focusing on conquering habits instead of worrying about the nutrition of each individual meal I cook.  I’ve developed a few habits I’m proud of and I’m working on changing the habits I’m not so proud to admit.  A bad habit I’m working on is eliminating my “adult right” to snacking throughout the day.  I have been bad about this in the past.  A piece of chocolate here, a cracker and cheese or seven there…I don’t want Olive to grow up snacking between meals and having her around has really shed light on my bad habits for randomly and mindlessly eating.  I’ve been tackling that problem this week and it’s getting easier and easier to wait till the next meal – just like I expect her to learn.

A good habit I really love is cooking a bit more indulgently on the weekends.  This Saturday it was just us girls as Matt was somewhere in the Colorado wilderness hiking and eating freeze dried gravy.  I love not camping.  So for breakfast, before Olive woke up, I looked up a recipe for yogurt pancakes and modified the one I found to have cinnamon, oatmeal and a splash of sweetened milk I had in the fridge from the tres leches cakes I made a couple weeks ago.  It was the best stack of pancakes I’ve ever made.  They were wonderful. These pancakes are by no means “healthy” in that you should eat them all the time, but they are filled with good ingredients and that just adds a bonus to getting to dig into a stack of pancakes on a weekend.  I topped them with banana slices and a bit of my favorite syrup – dark amber agave nectar (tastes like caramel) – and they were awesome.  And filling.  I threw the leftovers in the toaster this morning before church and they were magical all over again.  Three cheers for refined flour weekends and learning good habits!

Cinnamon Oatmeal Yogurt Pancakes

 

Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes
made about 8, 3 inch pancakes

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
2 tbs melted butter
2 tbs milk or heavy cream or evaporated milk (I had leftover tres leches concoction in my fridge)

Heat a griddle or a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  Combine all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.  Then, in a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and whip up the eggs in the mixture until smooth.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and blend with a fork until fully incorporated.  Spray the skillet with spray oil with each batch of pancakes and cook till browned on both edges, 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve with sliced bananas or peanut butter and syrup – whatever makes you happy!

Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes

Soft-Scrambled Eggs

Soft Scrambled Eggs

Everyone wants to be known for something.  We all strive to be important in some way and to matter to more than just ourselves.  Some of us get little snippets of fame from the jobs we do or the opinions we have or maybe from how cute our red-headed children happen to be.  Most of this attention is fleeting – it can last a day, an online minute or maybe as much as a year before the new wears off.  A good friend once put it so well, regarding our need for others’ acceptance: “You’re only as good as your last performance.”  This is a shockingly true statement that I would venture most of us, at one time or another in our lives, have felt.

Over the last year, I’ve worked through the book, The Divine Conspiracy.  It has flipped my world upside down.  Or maybe, finally, right-side up.  I’d recommend it to anyone searching for something they can’t quite put their finger on. One of the main points early on in the book is that we have this need to matter and to be unique and special because we were specifically designed to be that way.  We were designed by an infinitely unique and powerful creator who made us to be just like Him.  So, it’s not bad to strive to be noticed.  It’s just futile to strive for the approval of our peers – of anyone but the One who created us to be His unique treasures in the first place.  And as we all know, most of our days are spent in search of approval, recognition or acceptance from people online.  People we never see and from a strange sea of online crowds who are simply going about their day trying to be noticed, too.  It’s futile.  At times, I want to unplug from it all and just be important to my family and my very small circle of friends with whom I physically see on a regular basis.  It would be so much simpler to be special and to matter to just 20 people instead of trying to impress 200.

How on earth is this post going to be about scrambled eggs?!  Well, through my first year as a new mother, I really picked up the baton of cooking for my family.  I have embraced it with the foreknowledge that the recipes I cook now will be the stories and the comfort food Olive talks about when she’s in college, missing home cooked meals.  This is how I have come to matter (in my eyes) to my world.  I cook.  I provide food for Matt and Olive and occasionally friends and when I am lucky, family as well.  I usually cook new things, new recipes, Pinterest inspirations, but there are a few dishes that I can make whether I’m sleepy or not, paying attention to measurements or holding a kid on my hip.  Soft scrambled eggs is one of these recipes.  They are actually more of a skill than you might think.  But with a little extra effort and attention, these eggs will blow your mind.  We’ve all had the over-cooked rubbery eggs on breakfast buffets the world over.  These, by contrast, are super creamy, soft, flavorful (not sulfury) and are mind-blowing on top of a piece of buttered toast.  It’s the ultimate comfort breakfast food.  I have had people remark about these eggs like, “What on earth did you put in these?!  Cheese?  Cream?”  Nope.  Salt and Pepper!  And a tablespoon of butter.  That’s it.

I’ll be really detailed in the recipe so that you, too, can learn to do these right.  They just require a little more whisking and a little less heat than you’re probably used to. I hope they become part of your weekly recipe repertoire and I hope that you really enjoy at least one recipe you make on a regular basis.  It could be chocolate chip cookies or banana pancakes or even a simple roasted chicken.  But if you find something that you enjoy doing and you do it enough times to do it well, you will be an instant local-celebrity in the eyes of the people sitting around your table. And that, for me, is becoming more than enough. It’s good to matter to at least a few people in this life and I can think of no more worthwhile group of people than family.

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Pesto

Soft Scrambled Eggs
4 eggs serves two people

4 large eggs
about a teaspoon of kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 tbs of unsalted butter.  If you use a butter substitute, I can’t help you

First, get your butter in a medium saucepan (like a good pan for soup) and turn on the heat to 3 or 4.  Seems low, but this is one of the tricks.  My stove’s lucky number is 4.  Yours might be hotter so adjust as you see fit.

While the butter is melting, crack the eggs into a big measuring cup and season with the salt and pepper like this:
seasoned eggs

Then, whisk whisk whisk until they are forming bubbles.  Like this:
well beaten eggs

By this point, your butter should nearly be on its way to getting frothy in the hot pan.  Pour in your eggs and start whisking.  I use a flat whisk (you can kinda see it in the pic) and it’s so excellent for getting into the edges of the pan.  Whisk almost constantly, occasionally lifting the pan away from the heat and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, fully incorporating the eggs as they cook so that you maintain a very small curd, like cottage cheese sized bits of egg.  Continue doing this; on the heat, off the heat, on the heat, off the heat, until your eggs are nearly looking done, and more on the side of creamy, but no traces of whites remain.  Your eggs will look underdone to you if you’ve never done this method before.  But trust me, if the whites are all gone and you have a super creamy consistency, you are ready to eat.  Get the eggs out of the pan immediately into a bowl and serve at once.  This morning I put some leftover pesto, which became my own green eggs and ham and it was a breakfast fit for a king.  Or a toddler. 🙂

The pesto WILL be a future blog post.  It’s the best I’ve ever had and it came from an Italian grandmother so you know it has to be legit.

soft scrambled eggs and pesto in a homemade tortilla

Domestic Goodness – The Day to Day Matters

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“Keep your work space clean”

This was my mom’s mantra in the kitchen.  Every time I’d help her with cooking a meal, she would say this sentence at some point during our work.  She has no idea how important this lesson truly is for any home cook, professional chef or really, anyone in any professional field, ever. Professional chefs refer to the order of their kitchen, or their cooking station as their “mise en place” – everything in its place.  This refers to the ingredients they cook with, primarily, but it also refers to the pots and pans and knives and towels and, well, everything.  This concept is so important that many cooks get fired for being messy or leaving their works place a wreck.  The reasoning makes sense: if you know where things are, you will cook more efficiently and get your work done quicker and with fewer errors.  There will also be a higher standard for what you put on the plate as the place it came from was clean and professional.  Sure, we all make messes while we cook, but as my mom would tell me, we should clean as we go.  Not only does it leave less for you to do after dinner, but it helps you feel more in control.  And when you have a toddler climbing up your pants as you stir a pot on the stove, it’s good to feel like you have some control over the situation.

I’ve been rocking the stay at home mom thing for a few months, now.  My photography business has happily slowed down since December while I’ve launched this blog and thoroughly enjoyed my time at home, managing the house, planting a garden, cooking a LOT and getting to experience the wonder that is Olive.  I will get back to doing weddings more frequently, but I’m honestly in no rush.  Wedding photography is a very demanding job, one that I love, but I believe things come and go in seasons and right now, this is my season of being less busy.  Even though I have something to do nearly every minute of the day, I feel on top of things.  I’m going at my own pace.  I used to not love staying at home, but I think that’s because I was bad at it.  I didn’t find joy in the mundane, the every day tasks.  But I’m beginning to.

Not every day feels this way.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep a happy face while I fold microscopic socks while keeping Olive engaged so she won’t put all of Cash’s food, piece by piece, into his water bowl.  But for the most part, I’ve embraced the beauty of the mundane.  The happy calm from a home in order.  It’s not mundane, anymore.  It’s sacred.  It’s sacred because God is in all things and is constantly working through all things. Even the laundry. In your life, if you constantly say “what’s next?” or “I’m “just” a mom, but later, when the kids are in school, I’ll try to figure out what I’m really meant to do”, you’re selling yourself short.   Newsflash:  You’re meant to do exactly what you’re doing right now.  Whatever it is.  And you should find ways to do it with joy.  Even if it’s a job you hate or a situation you find beneath you.  I read a quote the other day that said, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”  And although that sounds so cliche, it’s so right.  Do you want to spend your days, your life, waiting for something better to come along?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t work toward new goals, but maybe we should all start doing a better job at being thankful and making the most of our “right now”, with whatever we’ve been given, in any situation we find ourselves.

A way that I chose to have joy in my seemingly-mundane current station in life was to revamp the place I spend a lot of time: the utility area.  So utterly boring, right?  I agree.  And it’s usually the most cluttered, messy, thrown-down room in the house.  In our house, that area has our pantry, our washer and drier, a craft area, a place to iron, a storage area, and Cash’s food and stuff.  That’s a lot of crap to cram into two, tiny, hallway-sized rooms.  And that’s a lot of time spent in a place that is ugly and thrown-down and messy.  Here’s a before pic – the view coming through the garage door:

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What if THIS greeted you every time you came home?  Would you feel like working?  All those things hanging on a curtain rod are aprons.  Yeah, I have plenty.  I gave a lot away and kept the ones people made for me.  De-clutter! I’m the antithesis of a hoarder.  If it doesn’t get used in a year, it gets given away or thrown out.

And here is the new view coming into the house:

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Much, much better.  As you can see, the craft area is still junky, but it’s SO hard to keep it not-junky if you actually craft.  And I do.  I’m currently making World’s Ugliest Lampshade.

Below, you can see how the pantry has order, however imperfect.  But I know where everything is, and that’s what matters.  I put a cute light switch cover on the wall, then put two hooks in the openings for our keys.  Right below is a hook for my purse.  Which my purse currently isn’t on – it’s in the car where it shouldn’t be.  But you get the idea.

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Then, I ordered a super cute ironing board cover and hung my iron on the wall as domestic-style art.  This really has become a peaceful area to iron, my most hated domestic duty.

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Then, I got all Pinteresty and made a laundry-folding area.  My mom used to yell, “Come get your stacks!” (of clothes) and now, I can yell, “Come get your basket!” and hopefully have the same results.  I made four shelves because I’m pretty sure we’re not done having children.  But for now, Olive gets both because that girl has more tiny outfits than one would ever need in life.  Good thing they cycle out of clothes every 3 months!

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From the craft area looking into the laundry/pantry area – I’m proud of my lampshade rigged light.  Just hung it against the ceiling on little screw hooks.  Magnets on the side of the drier for Olive to play with.  They usually end up in Cash’s water bowl, too.

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This looks messy, but that’s because they’re currently in use.  Three planter boxes – one for items that need repair, one for “projects” and one for items that need ironing.  Plus, a cute pegboard painted with the same paint for all the tools.  I love that I don’t have to go hunting in the garage for these things, anymore.

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My most Martha-moment – putting stuff in these jars.  I love the OCD appeal and I love how all the colors show through.  You can see here: beans, rice, pasta, feuilletine (it’s a candy additive thing you’ll make if you own Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook long enough), cocoa and cake flour.

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I also hang the super heavy pots here – we use these about once a week, so they don’t need to be in the kitchen with the daily use stuff, taking up space.  Those awesome teal Ball jars are at Target, currently!  Go get some!  The drawers below are for spices that won’t fit on my magnetic spice rack (or that I’ve stopped caring enough to buy spice cans for), extraneous and random flours, weird baking items like straight up glucose (I’m not scared) and baking additions like chocolate bars, cocoas, nuts and baking chips.  Then, a tupperware full of dried chilies that we never use but it makes us feel prepared, and two boxes (the pink ones) of cake and cookie decorating things.  All items that clutter up kitchen drawers!  This area is my favorite part of the redo.  Obviously 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed the tour!  And I hope that if there’s a room in your house that you use all the time, but simultaneously makes you feel depressed by being in it, that you would at least reorganize!  I really didn’t spend much on all this – I had all the storage units and I just bought the paint and the laundry shelves, which cost about $25 total.  Just rearranging things and painting the walls can make a world of difference!

And remember: whatever you’re doing in life right now is what you’re supposed to be doing.  So find the joy in whatever small ways you can!  You matter and what you do matters, even if it’s not flashy or expensive or even if you don’t get acclaim for doing it.  I wish I’d learned that years ago…

Caesar Salad and Chilling Out

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We’ve been trying to eat outside on our patio table more often as the weather warms up and the days get longer.  I want to enjoy myself in this zen-like way where I don’t care about a little extra mess, where Olive eats everything we serve and she isn’t wildly distracted by the dogs and the wind and the trees and the air and where I lean back in my chair, leisurely taking bites of my food and just enjoy the moment and the concept of taking a little longer than usual to eat dinner.  But instead, what has happened the few times we’ve done this, is I get all worked up and stressed trying to feed Olive and trying not to make a complete mess without her in the playful looking restraints of a high chair, and I end up trying to scarf down my food so that I can tend to whatever mess is going on, or try to block Olive from feeding all her food to Cash.

I do this to myself.  (For the record, this stress is only with food and dining – I am okay with a muddy kid or a messy house or whatever – but please, don’t put food in your hair and whatever you do, do NOT drop food from your tray!) I don’t enjoy the experience of something different and out of control, I let that ruin the experience for me.  Now, my sweet husband might just say, “Let’s not eat outside anymore if it bothers you so much!” (always trying to keep me from feeling anything but joy) but I think what I need, instead, is MORE dining experiences where not everything is micro-managed by my desires for things to look and go perfectly.

It happened again this Sunday – we had a picnic in the park with some people from our church group and we brought a tish bit of an ambitious lunch.  Matt had made all the components for this really great Vietnamese pork and noodle salad and everything was so delicious, but I instantly got down about: 1. the wind blowing lettuce and dirt in my face 2. my baby walking around the blanket and the park NOT eating and spitting things out that we tried to make her eat (God bless one of our friends who had the brains to bring a banana 3. just the overall lack of control I had over the components of my meal – it was messy and I needed a bowl and lots of napkins and NO wind, but I didn’t have those things and I became really negative and I am 100% sure I ruined the experience for Matt, who was trying his best to stay positive while eating beside a big rain cloud (me).

Whenever I struggle with sinful things in my life like jealousy or greed or pride or even the need for control (a sin, I believe), I try to do a bit of immersion therapy on myself and directly expose myself to the thing I can’t seem to handle as often as possible until I am over it.  It has worked in the past and I think I will try to apply it here.  I resolve to eat outside MORE often.  To let messiness happen MORE in situations where I’d like to appear perfect, and I resolve to look at my situations like Olive would – like an opportunity she’s never had before and quite possibly might never have again!

An opportunity you might never have, again, is enjoying a properly made Caesar dressing, because absolutely no restaurants make this dressing right, or from scratch.  This recipe is so flavorful and has just the right balance of tanginess from the lemon and anchovies and creaminess from the oil that it’s nearly like a beautiful, homemade mayonnaise  with a kick!  I see this salad happening a LOT during this hot summer ahead!

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Just a little behind the scenes shot of how I usually take my food photos 🙂

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Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons*
makes about a cup of dressing

4 tbs lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 large egg yolk
4 anchovies, plus more for garnish, if you like
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tbs bacon grease from 4 strips of cooked bacon, or melted butter that has been cooled
Torn up romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Combine all the ingredients except the canola oil in a tall, wide cup and blend with an immersion blender and then slowly drizzle in the oil.  Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper and extra lemon juice.

Toss leftover cubed up bread on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and toast until golden brown.

Toss a couple tablespoons with the lettuce until nicely coated.  Top with croutons, cut up pieces of the bacon and extra Parmesan cheese.  And lots of cracked pepper!

*recipe adapted a lot from Ruhlman’s amazing sounding Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar.

Mini Cherry Pies with Brown Sugar Meringue

cherry meringue mini pies-23

I fulfilled a little dream, today.  I baked with my daughter.  And she even wore a mini-apron. In just a few more months, she’ll be able to stand beside me on her stool and really help.  Today, she got to sit on the counter, play with the rolling pin, say, “row, row, row” as she rolled the dough and even properly sneaked little bites of the raw dough to eat.  This girl knows how to live.  And I’m so happy that she’s teaching me how to live mine, all over again.

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I found cherries on sale for $2.97, regularly over $7!  Cherries are in season in May, so I really hope they stay cheap for a few more weeks!  I did a couple things with my purchase.  First, I put a few whole in a jar and covered them with bourbon.

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A great addition to cocktails in a few weeks, I’m sure!  Or a grown up ice cream Sunday.  Or, a merciful substitution for those horrid Maraschino circles of candy that call themselves cherries.

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For my second act, I overcooked a batch of cherry pie filling so much that it resembled bits of dried cherries, resting comfortably in glue.  (I’d left it on the stove to “simmer” while I went to see my friend in the hospital.  Um, don’t ask why I did that.)  Matt rescued my near-break down by going and getting me another pound at 10:00 last night, then helped me pit every last one of them so I could start over.  That’s true love.

So I had a vague vision of what I wanted to do.  I wanted to make mini pies, fill them with tart cherry filling and use a brown sugar meringue that I’ve used before and wanted to make again because it’s close to perfection and is SO SWEET that it can really only be paired with something tart.  So these little devils are a combination of three recipes: Martha Stewart’s hand pie dough, My Baking Addiction’s cherry pie filling and Cindy Pawlcyn’s brown sugar meringue that she uses on her mile high lemon meringue pie at her amazing restaurant, Mustards Grill in Napa Valley (we went! we ate! we went into a food coma!)

The results were pretty great.  I think next time, I’d use my tried and true pie crust recipe and just add lemon zest to it.  Other than that, this recipe is a winner!  Especially for this super hot weekend that reminds us all too well that we live in the desert and it is officially summer.

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Mini Cherry Pies with Brown Sugar Meringue
makes two dozen

For the Crust

3 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest (this microplane works best!)
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup, room temp)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 oz. cream cheese at room temp
2 tbs buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and zest.

With an electric mixer on high speed (I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment), beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the egg and beat until just combined.  Add cream cheese, buttermilk, and vanilla; beat until well combined.  Add reserved flour mixture, and beat until smooth.  Form dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap and flatten into a disc.  Refrigerate 1 hour, up to overnight or freeze up to 1 month.

Let the dough come up to room temp and then roll out into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out 4″ rounds and press them into a standard muffin tin, making sure to patch up any holes that form.  This dough is kind of crackly, so don’t fret.  It patches up pretty easily.  Prick the bottom of each pie with a fork and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Some of the bottoms of the pies will puff up, but when they’ve cooled just press the puffed up centers down a bit before filling.  I wasn’t about to cut 24 parchment rounds and fill each cup with pie weights.  I’m not THAT dedicated to perfection.

For the Filling

5 to 6 cups fresh, pitted cherries
1/2 cup water
2 tbs lemon juice (fresh!)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbs constarch
1/2 tsp almond extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cherries, water, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the almond extract and cool slightly before using.

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I really love using my copper jam pot – (pardon the iPhone pic) The copper heats up almost instantly, as do the sides, so it cooks jam more evenly.  There are lovely, affordable ones here!

For the Meringue:

3/4 cup egg whites (about 6 large)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Place the brown sugar in a medium, heavy saucepan with high sides (that sugar will boil up and scare the meringue right out of you if you have a small pan), add water to cover, attach a candy thermometer to the pan, and turn the heat on high. When the sugar is at about 240 degrees, start whipping the whites on high speed (they should be foamy and starting to thicken before you add the sugar). When the sugar is at the high soft-ball stage (245 degrees), remove the thermometer from the sugar and, with the mixer still running, carefully avoiding the whip, pour the sugar into the egg whites in a thin stream. When steam starts to come off the whites, add the sugar more quickly. When all sugar has been added, continue whipping until firm but soft peaks form.

Assemble!

Fill each pie shell with the filling.  Then top each with a generous dollop of meringue (you’ll have leftover meringue) and then get a torch and torch those suckers.  I don’t like toasting meringue in my oven because I inevitably scorch them and that makes me feel like a failure and I try to avoid that feeling whenever possible.  It’s all about setting yourself up to succeed in the kitchen that will keep you coming back.

I think these are best served with iced coffee because that’s what you need on a 100 degree day like today!

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Little fingers are very curious 🙂

 

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JOY!

Bread: Guest post from Matt Palmer, a.k.a. The Bread Man

Alisa: I wanted Matt to write about the bread that he’s made countless times in the past seven years.  He started on a quest to learn to bake at the same time he wanted to become more likable at his office (to improve his performance review, which, the only thing that was negative was, “Matt’s kind of intimidating”) and so the two tasks naturally went hand in hand.  After one year of bringing bread in to the office every Friday, not surprisingly, there wasn’t a negative comment on his next review 🙂  Bread is the great equalizer.  This loaf, in particular, is beautiful in its simplicity, flavor, crusty exterior and soft, spongy interior.  Frankly, it’s the perfect loaf.  I think life has a lot of challenges, but if you could say that you could turn out a loaf of bread like this (given a day’s notice) any time it was needed, well, I’d consider that success.

Country loaf close up

Matt: I like making things from scratch. I enjoy learning how things work, and with cooking you usually end up with something better than what you can get at the store – and it’s cheaper, better for you, and you even get a night’s entertainment out of it. So I guess it was just a matter of time before I got into baking. I’ve been making bread pretty regularly for a few years now, and I’ve certainly gotten better, but I’m still an amateur. Bread is one of those things that you could devote your life to (think Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and still find things to improve on.

That’s part of why I love it, but if that sounds disheartening to you, the good news is that even the poorest homemade loaf is better than anything you can get at the store. With a little bit of practice you can make bread better than you can get anywhere (unless you happen to live in San Francisco, New York, or a country that still cares about good bread). It’s kinda like chocolate chip cookies – the best bread you can buy where I live is essentially the bread equivalent of Chips Ahoy. Maybe you live somewhere with a bakery that sells something other than cupcakes, but unless the guy behind the counter looks like this, I’m guessing the bread there is still a Soft Batch at best. I’m sure the worst batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies that came out of your mom’s oven blows either of those away. The bread that will soon come from your oven is the same – once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked.
 Plain bread
Bread
21 oz bread flour (or AP flour if you prefer)
14 oz water (66%, for the bread nerds out there)
1 tsp instant/rapid rise yeast
2 tsp salt
Mix up the dry ingredients (you are using a scale, aren’t you?) and then add the water. Mix until the flour is all hydrated then cover it and set it aside for twenty minutes. (Or I could just say autolyse. See, you should become a baker, we have our own secret language.)
Stretch the dough out and fold it back up in thirds like you would a letter. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat, then put it seam side down in an oiled bowl. Wait ten minutes, then repeat. After three of these stretch-and-fold sessions your dough is probably developed. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover it and place it in the fridge overnight, or for up to 2-3 days (you might use less yeast if you know you’re going to wait several days to bake).
About two hours before you want to bake, take the dough out and let it warm up on the counter for a bit. Press it out into a circle (gently, we’re not making pie), then gather each side up to form a ball. Roll the ball in small circles on the counter to develop surface tension. This is a lot easier to understand when you see it, so you might want to watch a video.
Put the dough (now a boule, if you want to talk the talk) into a bowl lined with a floured towel. I use a basket called a banneton, which I flour directly, and it leaves little rings of flour on the loaf.
Leave the dough covered, on the counter to rise. This will probably take about an hour and a half, but you can tell if a loaf is still rising by poking it gently – if it springs back quickly, leave it to rise some more. If the indention stays, you’re ready to bake.
About a half hour before baking, preheat your oven to 450, with your baking stone, Dutch oven, or preferred baking device inside. You can bake on a sheet pan, and if that’s your plan you don’t need to preheat for very long. I recommend a Lodge cast iron combo cooker, which gives you the added heat while also trapping steam, and you can put dough into it without getting second degree burns, which is tough to do in a normal Dutch oven.
When the dough is ready, remove your preheated Dutch oven and flip the bowl over to put the dough into the pan. Make a couple of cuts in the loaf so it doesn’t rupture when it rises in the oven (this is called scoring), then put the lid on the Dutch oven and return it to the oven for thirty minutes.
Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and bake another 30 minutes.
Remove the loaf from the oven (the interior of the loaf should be around 200 degrees, if you want to make sure it’s done) and put it on a rack to cool. Lean in close and I bet you can hear the loaf “sing.” It’s tempting to cut into it right away, but I promise it’s better if you let it sit and finish cooking – think of it like resting a steak.
plain country bread loaf

Blackberry Jam Tart – I get pie with a little help from my friends…

Blackberry Jam and Toasted Almond Tart

Blackberry Tart with Cornmeal Crust

This tart was made because I bought three packages of fresh blackberries at 99 cents a pack (usually $3) and after we had some for a snack, I realized they would probably mold by the next day, and I would have wasted them.  So, looking up blackberry recipes on Martha Stewart Living online, I found a wonderful recipe that calls for a cornmeal crust, a jar of jam and some blackberries.  Perfect.  And I JUST happened to have the most perfect jar of blackberry jam in my pantry, made by my friends in Seattle, who have an entire acre, basically, of wild blackberry bushes beside their house.  I think jams and preserves are one of those treats that should be enjoyed in season.  It’s so much more satisfying to get a jar from the literal fruits of someone’s labor, than to just go pick up any ol’ flavor you want at the grocery store.  I think eating this way is another way of naturally limiting one’s sugar intake.  My friend, Brynn’s dad, makes this blackberry hybrid batch of jam each spring/early summer, and sometimes, there’s no fruit and we’re all sad, and sometimes there’s an abundance and I get one, coveted jar.  This stuff is the most amazing jam I’ve ever eaten.  So we wait, excitedly, all year for it.  Tell me that’s not better for the soul than having exactly the flavor you want, any time of the year?  Cook seasonally, bake seasonally, and natural moderation will follow.

My cousin, Kathleen, and her daughter, Hannah, stopped by earlier this week to pick up the disc from a senior session I did for Hannah.  Hannah’s boyfriend was with them, too, and when I asked if they’d like a piece of the berry tart I’d just made that afternoon, this precious boy’s eyes lit up and he just said, “uhhhh.”  All it takes is one in your group to say “yes” for you to feel comfortable to take a piece, as well!  They all stayed and ate and chatted and kept Matt and me company as we started prep for our dinner.  I was in my little piece of heaven.  Just wish it happened more often.  I don’t always have a piece of pie or tart or cookies, but I ALWAYS have coffee.  Always. So stop by any time.  You might get pie, if you’re lucky!

A Piece of Blackberry Jam Tart

Blackberry Tart with Blackberry Jam, Toasted Almonds and a Cornmeal Crust

Blackberry Jam Tart*

For the crust:  (I didn’t have enough butter, so I just halved the recipe. It makes two crusts, anyway, so it worked out!  I’ll post the full, two-crust recipe. This recipe also uses a food processor, which is easier, but you don’t burn as many calories and you have a food processor to clean up. Sometimes I’d rather pull a muscle than have to clean gadgets)

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk until combined.  Add the butter and cut with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Add a few tablespoons of water and continue cutting it into the mixture until the dough holds together when pressed between your fingers.  Knead it inside the bowl about 10 times until it all holds together in a ball.  Divide the dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap and press into a nice disc.  Refrigerate for at least one hour, up to one day before using.

For the Tart:

AP flour, for surface rolling
half a jar (about one cup) of blackberry jam
12 ounces fresh blackberries (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup toasted, sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out the crust into an 11 inch round (about 1/4 inch thick) on a floured surface.  Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 10 inch springform pan.  Trim the edges to come 1 inch up the sides using a paring knife.  Use the trimmings to patch up any thin areas or holes in the crust bottom.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Prick the tart shell all over with a fork.  Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Immediately spread jam into the tart shell, top with blackberries, sprinkle with almonds and bake for 10 minutes more.  Serve warm.

*adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Blackberry Tart