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Archive for the ‘Pensive Thoughts’ Category

Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.

I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.


This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.

But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.

This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.


And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?

And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.

There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.

And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??

Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen

2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.

Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.

For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.

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My Wednesday evenings are one night of the week where both of my guys are gone, and I have been really treasuring the ‘Alone’ time, pampering myself with candlelight, a glass of wine, classical music and usually some simple meals that are for my mouth only. Do you eat differently when you’re alone? And I don’t mean standing over the sink munching on peanut butter off a spoon, or eating dry cereal by the handful while watching TV, what I mean is, do you take the time to really nurture yourself with good food when you’re alone? Because you should. It’s delightful, really. And with the way most people seem to cram their lives with activity and movement, some time alone is one aspect of our lives that we so desperately need. I know that for myself, I thrive on having some time that is just mine. And my life is pretty simple too; I don’t have much now that pulls me in every direction but that doesn’t change my need to be with myself, to remember what I like and enjoy, to be kind to the ‘Me’ that I know, to who I am. I’ve been this way ever since I can remember.

So my Wednesdays are a treasure. It’s my time to let go a deep sigh as I take in the empty house, and peruse the fridge for a few simple ingredients to fill my tummy. Since I won’t be off-putting to my egg-hating husband, many of these meals will include the cooking of eggs. One week it was a spicy dish of cooked chorizo and potato, topped with a hard-cooked egg, there was the phenomenal and by far most popular of blog posts when I made the shirred eggs in potato skins- that occurred on my solo Wednesday evening, and then just recently, with the desire to make something unique, I created a roasted rutabaga and poached egg dish that was divine, yet so simple and amazing.

(I tell you, I am happy this winter light seems to be gone!)

I need to confess something about eggs; while I love them dearly, and really, think that it is one food item that I will never give up eating, I have been rather stubbornly affixed to only consuming them when cooked good and solid. I've had an aversion to the soft yolk ways for as long as I can recall, and I simply can't say why. I don't care for them scrambled either, and no matter how well they're scrambled, so soft and pillowy and silky smooth, I just won't eat them. I think it must be the texture. As I've grown and watched my food tastes change, the one aspect of it that I've noticed is that formerly despised foods were all about texture over flavor. Still, as I can now manage mushrooms, squash, tomato, avocado and a host of other goodies that were once verboten on my table, I draw the line at scrambled eggs. Still, the fact that I just knew this roasted rutabaga dish required a poached egg, that I then went ahead and made, beautifully, is huge growth for this egg lover. And I may never look back again.

The roasted rutabaga has become, at this latest stage of winter, a rather treasured foodstuff. That and parsnips are slowly integrating themselves into my life and I welcome them warmly. I diced the rutabaga into small pieces and tossed them with some oil and seasoning and set the pan in a 400° oven. I stirred them once, and about 20 minutes later, they were toasty and browned, smelling fantastic. The egg poaching method is standard; a pan of water with a teaspoon of white vinegar, bring to a boil, create the vortex in the center and slip the egg into it, reduce heat and allow to cook to your desired stage. I made two, and they were both perfect. As was the evening, alone and content.

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These days, the buzz words of anything food or culinary related seem to center around the latest thing Michael Pollan has talked about. I’m no MP basher- I like the guy and I even willingly watched ‘Oprah’ the day he was on it because I think he’s got his finger on the right idea. But, and forgive me, he isn’t the last word in what we put in our mouths. We are. You are. Everyone needs to take their food rules to a level that works for them.

I haven’t read this book. I probably will when the hype over it lessens and it sits on the library shelf all by itself. It’s not long and it isn’t complicated, and from what I’ve seen, it’s chock full of sound advice. “Eat food that comes from a plant, not food that’s made in a plant” or something to that extent, is pretty clear. The more natural, the better. We all know that buying products with an extensive list of unpronounceable ingredients just isn’t good eating. We know that factory farmed meats are not the best option for our bodies. Vegetables are laden with pesticides. Sugar is hidden in everything. Every single day we’re bombarded with news about our well-being, proper nutrition and health crises that are out of control. People lament “I don’t know WHAT to eat anymore!” And to this I just say ‘Stop.’

We need to make our own choices. And we need to be content with those choices, both with what we bring into our homes and that which we see around us. Some of those choices may not be practical for everyone, and we need to remember that we’re not all the same.  We’re raised to be who we are, each with our own fingerprint, our own set of values and our own means of taking in and digesting the world around us.

My food rules have changed dramatically over the past few years, and I have a lot of ideas about how I want them to be different, but given our current financial situation, I’m not doing absolutely everything that I want. Some day, perhaps. I need to pick which ones, right now, are most important to me, are within my budget and my desire to live healthier.

Simple to address; eating out. We don’t do it much at all. I’m a very good cook and as much as I love to have someone else prepare my meal, I know about raw food costs, and sometimes menu pricing makes me irate so I protect my blood pressure by staying home. It protects my budget too. When we dine out, I like to go to restaurants that prepare food I tend not to make, so we frequent ethnic restaurants. And a few tried and trues places that make a 15-year old boy and both his parents happy. That’s not an easy challenge. We don’t eat fast food, but we’ve gone to Chipotle, Baja Sol, Davannis (local chain that serves pizza and hoagies) and Mavericks (local shop that makes killer roast beef sandwiches). Those places are OK by me, on occasion. I don’t make it a habit by any means. And it’s at those places where I tend to drink the only soda I ever consume. We don’t drink soda at home. If my son wants it, he spends his own money on it. I don’t like it, but it’s his choice.

At home, I make most everything from scratch, but I don’t make my own pasta sauce. I’ve done it from scratch and it’s fine, but the overall cost of ingredients can be staggering so I buy a good quality jarred option. I avoid any products with MSG as I am highly sensitive to it, and am adamant about avoiding high fructose corn syrup and any kind of trans fat. I love Wheat Thins, but they have HFCS. I love Ritz crackers too- again, HFCS. I buy some boxed cereals but they tend to be healthier options, occasionally a sweeter version hits my pantry, but I don’t eat cold cereal much, so when I do, it’s more like a treat. I buy and eat a lot of oatmeal, and get the thick cut version, basically one step down from Steel Cut, and I like the hot cereals from Bob’s Red Mill. We don’t eat frozen meals, frozen pizza, or boxed meals; I buy the best yogurt I can without artificial sweeteners. I make pancakes and waffles from scratch, and all my baked goods are from scratch. I don’t use cake mixes, and have recently decided that I need to stop using refined white sugar so I’m researching alternatives- thanks Angela!!  I started making almost all of our bread, using the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes book, and we make pizza dough from scratch. We love the flavor of the bread, it’s better for us, and cuts back on the cost of packaged. I’m very diligent about reading labels, and buying products that contain recognizable ingredients. My son loves to snack on Nachos, and I will buy jarred salsa only with fresh ingredients. I’m sure I could make my own but I don’t. That’s my decision. Sometimes those decisions are simple. Other times, they’re not so cut and dried, and I wrestle with the best way to choose.

We eat meatless as much as possible, and that’s hard because you all know that I refer to my boy as The Carnivore. He thinks that no meal is worthy without meat. I’m happy that he loves black beans, as beans and rice is a cheap meal that is nutritionally sound. He’s pretty good about eating what I make even if it isn’t his favorite; the alternative is to make his own dinner, and he’s just a tad too lazy for that. I don’t argue about the food he wants to eat. Up until a few years ago, he never made a stink about our meals, but now that he does, I feel it’s just his way of trying to control what he can. I don’t fault him. I know the ground work has been laid, and living by example is just fine with me. We eat cheese, but don’t drink milk. I use soy milk for coffee, cereal and baking and buy a soy based sour cream and cream cheese. I use butter and sometimes Earth Balance soy based butter. We buy only whole bean coffee of good quality. I don’t use canned goods other than beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, and pumpkin. I use olive and canola oil. I do not use margarine, I’ve got a container of non-hydrogenated organic shortening on hand for those recipes where it’s a must, and I basically sub whole wheat flour for all-purpose so much now that I won’t be buying AP once the current bag runs out. I utilize whole grains like farro, wheatberries, millet and barley, we eat a lot of nuts and plenty of vegetables. I prefer to buy some of my produce as organic, but it isn’t necessary that it’s all that way. During Farmers Market season, I buy almost all our vegetables from the markets.

And like I said, there’s lots more I wish I was doing, but this works for us, for now. I’d love to hear your personal food rules- what you eat, what you avoid, what you wish you could be doing. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, don’t you? My quick on the draw friend Barb already has hers up on her blog. Feel free to put yours in my comments.

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Last year wasn’t my favorite year. Come to think of it, 2008 tossed some bombs my way and it all seemed to carry over, spreading out over time and trying to suck all the life out of me at every turn. As 2010 approached, and I looked back on the 12 months behind me, it was a bit sad to see that I’d paid far too much attention to the valleys in my life, and forgot to take in the view from the peaks.

Life is all about valleys and peaks. We’re up, we’re down and when we’re not, there’s the climbing out of the abyss and of course, slipping as we fall back into it. Sometimes our peaks are long, straight paths that resonate with light and glory, and we feel great. For a long time. Life is good and we breathe easy. But we slip, once more. The valleys can be dark. It’s hard sometimes to keep remembering that it doesn’t last forever. I’ve struggled to keep my chin up, part of me wishing fervently that this time of trial would just end already because really, I’ve had quite enough, thank you. Then I always realize that I’m climbing once again.

One aspect of 2010 that I’ve really wanted to do more of was to keep focused on the good, even when it seemed like there was nothing but darkness all around me. Fortunately, we’re only 6 weeks in, and what few dark moments that presented themselves passed rather quickly. It’s exciting to see the Earth changing around me, to notice with delight that there is still light at 5:45pm, that the tilt of the sun has changed enough to make 15° in February feel way different than it did in January. Or December. We’ve been absolutely dumped on in terms of the snowfall, and it’s given us quite a gorgeous landscape to look out over, and some stellar cross-country skiing. But beyond the natural turn that is happening, and the shorter amount of time between us and the arrival of Spring, it seems like there’s a whirlwind of good happening around me too. I hope to be able to share much more of what it entails as it pans out, but right now it’s slowly starting to twirl, like a tentative pirouette, moments of time pressing together and gradually expanding that are quietly whispering “Soon. Be Patient.”

The famous poem ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann has a line that says “… and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” For a long time it just never felt clear to me, it felt more like I was standing still while the world twisted and moved on around me. That’s changing, as is my perspective and I’m grateful. I’ve had this sensation inside me for a while now that I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, and everything in me knows that I just have to leap despite the voice in my head that’s saying “No- step back! You’re really scaring me!” I’m in my Indiana Jones moment, on the edge of that precipice. And this is my leap of faith. There is a bridge there that will catch me, even though I can’t see it.

There is one aspect of this extended time of trial in my life, and that is being available to just stop and enjoy those tiny moments along the way that can be so easily overlooked. Sitting down for a cup of tea one day really opened my eyes as the square cup seemed to fill my hands so perfectly. Moments of clarity that come from spending days with my almost 2-year old niece Nina,losing track of myself for awhile as I see life through her eyes. A Fall hike on a misty day that seems to leave the world around me at a standstill, smothered in the thick, wet air.

And with food too. Simple, easy and nourishing; stopping myself long enough to savor my lunch or an afternoon snack, taking the time to taste, smell and appreciate what’s in front of me.

I’ve spoken out for these garlicky white beans before, urging you to try them and fall in love with their simplicity like I have, the endless ways they can be dressed up as a quick yet nutritious meal. One bright and sunny afternoon I set out to simply stir together this favorite of mine, and as I perused the pantry, fridge and countertop, I reached for a can of tuna, half an avocado and some washed spinach, which when paired this time with lime zest and juice instead of lemon, made yet another winning combination. Great taste, good for the body and with the first few bites, apparently very good for the soul.

White Bean and Tuna Salad
by Kate

1 15-oz can great northern beans, drained and well rinsed
1 3-oz can of tuna, drained
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1/2 a ripe avocado, diced
1 c. fresh spinach, washed and chopped
Lime zest and juice to taste

Fresh thyme (optional)

In a medium skillet, warm about 3 tablespoons of oil and add garlic, sauteing gently until lightly browned. Add in the beans and tuna and warm, stirring to combine. When hot and steaming, add about half the spinach and stir until wilted slightly. Repeat with remaining spinach. Grate in some of the lime zest and squeeze in about 2 tablespoons of the juice. Stir and taste. Season with salt and pepper, more lime zest and juice if desired. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Add the avocado and gently mix it in. Sprinkle with thyme and serve warm with rye crackers if you wish, or toasted pita bread.

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I’m exhausted.

And I didn’t expect this feeling at all, this sense of such accomplishment, a profound feeling of gratitude coupled with a sneaking sense of…..I don’t know, shame, I think. Last night I had the phenomenal privilege of being a part of something that went to my very core, as a blogger first, but also as a person, and a child of God. I don’t talk about that faith here, not much at all, but last night it was profoundly stirred up and I need to address it. All of it was good, just so you know.

This post isn’t about food, nor does it contain a recipe although it will contain a few ingredients needed for vast humility and sheer humbleness. There will be links to bloggers in Minnesota, a wide net that’s been firmly cast. If it doesn’t interest you, I won’t be offended if you click away.

But last night, yes. It started at a restaurant, a dimly lit back room that quickly filled with 40 bloggers from Minnesota covering all walks of life. Organized with aplomb by Melissa, of The Marketing MaMa, it started racing through Twitter way back in early December and I signed on. Because that’s just what you do when opportunity knocks. The door opens and you walk through. Although I’m not so sure I walked. I think I was forcibly thrown, but in a good way. So good that I couldn’t even sleep after it was all over, despite my physical and emotional exhaustion.

I was excited for the event, but being that I am slightly introverted, also a tad nervous. It was helpful to walk into the room and be recognized immediately. It surprised me to hear fellow bloggers gush their appreciation over what I do. I was humbled to hear their thoughts on my blog, my recipes and photos, to hear them say “I’m SO glad to finally meet you!” and see warm, engaging smiles all around. Bloggers are like that. We may not share the same passion for our content- the Moms who blog vs. the people who are enraptured about food vs. those who eloquently talk about kitchen sciencebooks, holistic health, personal motivation and so on. But we all share the same gene that compels us to sit at our computers and forge an online presence, to follow others through Twitter. To connect. Bloggers connect and then when we finally do meet face to face, it’s like meeting a best friend you never knew you had. It’s impossible to stop talking. And thankfully our mouths can work as fast as our fingers.

(me on the right, then clockwise Melissa, Jen, Liz and Molly)
photo courtesy of Jen

I knew in my heart that this event was going to move me, in some way, and I still am not certain of outcomes or potential, but it’s there. Seeds have been planted and the trickles are only beginning. I am filled with the possibilities, even if I’ve just made new friends and connections. It was apparent that something big was in the works. Forty people just don’t come together, these days anyway with crowded schedules, young children and busy-ness, on just a whim and a promise. People look for gatherings that have significance and although I know we could have all sat in that restaurant for hours chatting, exchanging cards, ideas, web strategies, blog template ideals (that old Blogger v. WordPress option never fails to rear its head) but we had a bigger goal and that was to do volunteer work for Feed My Starving Children.

Back in December when this whole idea was born, and the volunteer aspect of it sealed, no one could have predicted that we would be specifically packing meals for the earthquake ravaged people of Haiti. What happened to them was so awful that it’s beyond words or feelings. Knowing that the 64 boxes of food we put together was going to land among the shattered buildings and broken population of that country made the outing that much more meaningful. Listening to the tutorial at the beginning of our shift there, and seeing the photos of the children that the meals ultimately help and it was all I could do not to break down into tears. I’d heard of this organization for years but I’d never gone. I have no idea why. Now I can’t wait to go back. One member of our group, Trish, posted the most profound entry that tells the tale better than I could ever imagined. She simply nailed the impact of what we were doing.

We stood together in groups, and scooped portions of food into bags, while upbeat music played in the background and dance moves were practiced. It was noisy and glorious, but somewhere along the way, the impact of it all landed inside me with a thud. There were the images of poverty that we’d seen, and the ones I knew about in my head but refused to acknowledge. There was the long-playing tape of my own financial stresses, something my husband and I have dealt with now for more than a year with no end in sight. Yet, it all came together in it’s own earthquake of awareness in my mind, and with the knowledge that I, as an inhabitant of one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, I am monumentally rich and prosperous compared to those who would be receiving this food we were making, and none of them- NONE- would ever even know the tiniest fraction of comfort that I do every day. For them, one scoop of food was a lifesaver, a means to stop the tears of sorrow. And for me, I cry about the economy and my inability to land a job to help alleviate our ongoing financial stress. We sometimes can’t sleep at night because of it, but I can go to my cupboards and prepare a meal, and I’ve gotten really damn good at making something from the most meager of ingredients, and I usually can eat three times a day without fail. I have experienced hunger but I have never, ever been starving. I have never known my body to devour itself as a means of survival. I have struggled in my lifetime, I have known dark times and long periods of my own poverty, my own lack of nutritious food, and I’ve been an unhealthy skinny girl due to it all, but I have never been swallowed alive by my own body in a last ditch effort to survive. And I’ll never even come close to that, ever.


And I stood there, in front of these ingredients, trying hard not to be repelled by the smell of the chicken powder, which was making me think of Rice-A-Roni. I was imagining the children that would be served this and thinking that they probably didn’t care, that it was likely they felt joy and excitement that a meal was being given to them and here I was, trying not to breathe too deep. Although I participated in the laughter around me, my heart really felt like it was breaking. I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed of the way I pity what I perceive to be inadequacies in my own life. I have so, so much; we’d left food on our plates at the restaurant, and I thought of the food items at home that I sometimes throw out. And I recalled all the complaining I’ve done about our own situation and the anxiety of it- or at least what I think of in terms of anxiety; the means I’ve gone to stretch our food dollars to cover the entire month. The meals that are simple, but nutritious and whole. I can work miracles in the kitchen. But my life, and my comfortable home and furniture, functional clothing, proper shoes, the heat and air-conditioning, our vehicles….it’s all luxuries that people in half the world can only dream about, if they even can envision such a thing.

Then we all gathered in the warehouse for a photo.

And as we dispersed, I saw several members of our group praying over the boxes of food we had created. And I walked away. No wonder I couldn’t sleep last night. I was being stared in the face by my own shortcomings and it wasn’t all that pretty.

My perspective has been monumentally shifted and I am grateful for the process. I alone could never have accomplished such a thing as the events of this night. I alone couldn’t have pushed myself into such discomfort. I could have never shown myself such levels of extreme, from the highs of connecting with these amazing people, meeting the faces behind the Tweeps and blogs and personalities I’ve grown familiar with, to the crashing lows of feeling so much shame over my self-imposed fret when really, my life is pretty amazing in comparison. And I’m glad not to be the only one who came away with a renewed perspective, a sharper focus. Forty hearts came together and gave selflessly and although it broke something in me, it also started building something else. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. That door opened and I had no control over how mercilessly I was pitched through it, but thankfully it was hard enough for me to be able to stand up and take notice.

Thanks everyone…..you’ve done far more than you can imagine. I hope this is the first of many gatherings.

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onward

For all the angst that entered my life in 2009, the accidents and stress and overall sense of “What the….?” that occurred, this year that I will happily forget has ended on a pretty high note.

Let me introduce my newest niece Sara.

She made her entrance with one day remaining in 2009, and we have been eagerly awaiting her arrival. She is the tiny little sister of Nina, a well-known face on this blog.

As for all that went before, well….I’m happy to walk away from this past year, to drop a match into the midst of it all and bid it farewell. There have been monumental lessons learned in a gripping and tough-love sort of way; I’ve not been very good at keeping my perspective positive and genial, but in looking back, the one thing that keeps coming forefront to my thoughts is that I survived it all and came out today, December 31st, generally unscathed. And with a deep sense of humility.

These past few months I have done a lot more looking inward. And plenty of gazing through a camera lens. I’ve found so much beauty that I’ve failed to notice before. In 2010, I look forward to enjoying this more. I’m pretty simple in my photo-taking life. There’s my basic point and shoot digital, and I’ve discovered that the iPhone camera, while it does have limitations, can be relied upon to capture some rather dramatic and stunning images. Like this one:

And this one:

And that really, it isn’t about what kind of camera, the amount of money, a lens that is above all others….what it comes down to is that when you lift it to your eye, the world opens up and you click the shutter at just the precise moment to capture life happening around you. This is one of my goals for 2010: Project 365. A photo a day for the entire year. Keep your eyes open for it.

I don’t make resolutions. They’ve always failed me, or maybe I just am a failure at them. This coming year is more about stepping up, being present, lifting my head and accepting grace. I think I may have fretted a bit more in the past year, fought against the tide and been resentful of being in a place that I didn’t feel I deserved. What I didn’t do, and should have, was stop and really examine where I was, and maybe think about the fact that it probably was just what I needed, and yet wasn’t willing to realize. Even in our trials, and through very, very dark times that seemed like they were endless and painful, the most amazing of life’s moments shone right through. And I often refused to even look at them. I spent too much time focused on the darkness and that just can’t happen anymore.

So 2010 has potential- like the seeds of a milkweed. All new beginnings do, and we shouldn’t wait until a new year to make subtle and lasting change happen. Why not November? Or July? And when we resort to being human, and we make mistakes, why not be soft and forgiving to ourselves, get back up and start a new day again, with a fresh perspective? Last November, right around Thanksgiving, I decided that I was tired of being heavy and out of shape. I embarked on a plan that I’ve stuck to the entire last year. I’ve lost 20 pounds and almost three pants sizes. It wasn’t a resolution, but a serious lifestyle change. And during the past year, if I faltered, skipped some workouts or simply felt unmotivated, I allowed myself to be all right with it. And so should you, with whatever personal gain you take on this year. The perspective, and the journey is often far more important than the goal, and I hope you don’t lose sight of that like I did this past year.

“It’s been a long December, and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last”


Happy Blue Moon New Year’s Eve, everyone. May many blessings, much love and gentle peace be yours in the year ahead.


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I’m not sure whether I feel sadness or relief that Christmas is over.


Some years, it’s a combination of both.

This year it seems to be more relief, as I struggled to bring the holiday forefront in my life. I am more eager for this coming New Year’s Day. I’ll be happy to throw out the last calendar page of 2009, thinking this month I might rip it into tiny pieces before fluttering them into the recycle bin, watching the last of a year to forget slip through my fingers. Maybe the metaphorical shredding will empty my heart of the effects of too many trials and ongoing stress. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that.

Our Christmas celebrations were nice, as they always are. There was plenty of good food and family time. There was lots and lots of snow, Minnesota-style. We even had some rain, which led, of course to ice and then on top of that, more snow. I love how when I look out over a fresh snowfall, I feel giddy again like I did as a kid. It’s nice to feel that sense of wonder still inside me.


The more adventurous of our two cats had enough curiosity to venture onto the front steps, but that was about it. The sound of the snowblowers was a bit too much for him.


The Christmas celebrations had plenty of high points; my son, our little carnivore, got his fill of good meat, a gift in and of itself. We caught up on some much needed sleep and my sister-in-law gave me a beautiful, warm hand-knitted shawl that I am completely uninterested in removing from my shoulders any time soon. We’ll have a new niece or nephew any day now and the anticipation is very high. There is much to be joyful about, and this is no lie. Even in my pensive state I am well aware of the multitude of blessings that surround us.  And I am here now, in the last few days of one year, a year I can’t imagine ever wanting to re-visit again, eagerly full of hope, mystery and the potential of something far better starting in the new year on Friday. I’ve always been in wonder over the fact that you can lay down to sleep on December 31st, and wake up to a whole new stretch of months ahead, a new numbered calendar year, a lineup of days, blank and exciting to make into what you wish. I remember being young, ushering in a brand new year, and unaware that life had the potential to keep kicking you after you’ve tripped and fallen flat. I always thought it should look different, that switch from one year to the next; I expected the new year to dawn bright and shiny, unblemished and superbly fresh, like that moment you step out of the bath. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the ability to place your burdens on the ground, the stroke of midnight imminent, and step over some magical threshold into 2010, closing the door and leaving them behind? Spiritually this is full of possibility. I hope to be able to do just that, the best I can this coming Thursday evening. I think about changes I wish to see in the coming year. I think about stress relief, smiling more, hoping more, praying more. I think about rising up to a better level of personal contentment, stretching my culinary wings, digging deeper, loving more fully, reaching out farther, accepting life more gracefully with less judgment. What’s the next step? The right step? Maybe my best option is simply to keep myself open to immense possibility.

And let’s talk about immense possibility, with regards to this Cornbread Stuffed Poblano Pepper.


I came across this idea while blog surfing one day and had yet another ‘Eureka!’ moment. If I recall correctly, we ate it for dinner that night and I was swirling with the potential of greatness to be found in this simple option. Like the New Year ahead, it’s bright with new promise and endless outcomes. I think about chunks of pork, mixed with green chile sauce and topped with cornbread mix nestled into a dark green pepper, baked to perfection and steaming hot, topped with avocado and a spot of sour cream. I think about chili beans too. Maybe spicy chicken pieces. I like thinking in terms of potential, for both my life in the 12 months coming rapidly my way, and for my food. It makes future endeavors seem much more delicious.

For your Cornbread Stuffed Poblano Peppers:

Buy as many poblano peppers as there are people to serve. Look for firm, unblemished peppers with as much roundness as possible, not the easiest option in a poblano. Heat the oven to 375° and cover a baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.  Slice the peppers the long way and trim out the core and seeds. Prepare your favorite cornbread recipe, reducing the liquid up to 1/3. A more dense cornbread won’t spill out of the peppers as it bakes. Jazz up the cornbread by adding a chopped jalapeno, or a 4-oz can of diced green chilies, some sharp cheddar cheese, a spoonful of minced chipotle peppers. Be creative with the additions. Spoon some of the cornbread mix into each pepper half, just enough to barely touch the top. Sprinkle extra cheese over the top. Any remaining cornbread can be baked as muffins, or any option you wish. Bake the peppers until the cornbread is cooked, about 18-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

A savory meat or bean layer underneath the cornbread strikes me as a delicious option for these, turning a healthy side dish into a delightful main course meal. Oh, the possibilities……..

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Every year, with the boxes all around me and the tissue paper pushed back, I gaze at my life in ornaments and baubles and am in awe yet again at the wealth of memory and nostalgia that we place on the accepting branches of our chosen tree.


That gorgeous crocheted Santa, aptly named Lunar Santa, was made by my sister. It’s one of my most favorite ornaments. And I still have a handful or ornaments that my Grandma made for us. Every year when she came for Christmas, she would bring a box of her handmade treasures. They had tags on them, with our names in her perfect script. Several of mine still hold those tags, that memory of her permanently in ink. Some of the items on our tree were made by Griffin’s paternal Great-Grandmother too.

I love this faded and fragile paper Christmas tree, with Griffin’s tiny little face in the center. He made it in Kindergarten and I hope I never forget the look on his face when he brought it home to me. He swelled with pride when we placed it on our tree that year. Next to it, see that even more faded little paper chain? I made that in Kindergarten, thirty years earlier that the date on Griffin’s tree.

The year that Christmas almost wasn’t was when Griffin was three. It was a pretty hard time of my life and the ocean of sorrow that swirled around me left me almost broke and lacking much holiday spirit. A friend of mine refused to let me wallow, and said “You need to celebrate for your son’s sake.” They took me shopping and bought me a few ornaments, a tiny little tree and stand and a few groceries. Among the ornaments was a box of these old-fashioned styled glass baubles in all sorts of shapes and colors.


My family had some ornaments like this when I was very little and they reminded me of a better time of life, a time when we just had no clue as to the difficulties that lay ahead. Now, when I pull out the tin that lovingly holds this collection, not only do I remember some beloved childhood treasures, but I also recall the support and guidance of someone who gave selflessly to me at a critical time of need.

It really isn’t fully festive during our decorating time unless someone grabs the Santa-inspired tree skirt and dances around the house with it around their waist. Usually it’s me. This year it was Griffin and I almost collapsed from the hilarity. But shhhhh….don’t tell him I mentioned that here. He is 15, you know.

And me? I’m way beyond the need to shake the packages under the tree in a vague attempt to identify their contents, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the urge every year when they start to accumulate.

I hope that your Christmas is full of treasured people, whether it’s family, or the friends that feel like family. I hope there is delicious food, warm genuine smiles. I hope it is peaceful, because I sure know about celebrating Christmas when it’s the last thing you want to do. I hope snow is involved, if the climate allows, and twinkling lights fill your eyes. We’ll be staring at magical Christmas snow in amazing abundance this year. It is a VERY white Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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This time of year it isn’t unusual to find the long winter shadows start to appear around early afternoon. With the swift approach of the Solstice, the darkness seems almost interminable. But the nice thought is, after Monday, the days grow progressively longer. And Spring will be three months away.

Are you one of those, at least those of us in the grasp of a northern hemisphere Winter, that feel the night descend so hard that the 7:00pm darkness can often feel like midnight? Like we need to be going to bed instead of finishing up the dinner dishes and thinking about how to manage the evening ahead? We’ve been plagued with that quite a bit at our house. And I’m never sure how to get past it except to just roll with the changing light and keep in mind that the tilt of the Earth always brings us back to warmer weather, dripping eaves and bare brown patches that miraculously change into green again. And up until recently, I never considered actually embracing that darkness. It was always about trying to get away from it. Then I read this essay by Jeanette Winterson. And I read it again. It struck a chord in me and suddenly the coming darkness that evening didn’t seem so daunting.

Winterson’s essay is all about the enjoyment of darkness for many things considered normal in our lives. She speaks eloquently of the effect of the night on love, cooking, thinking, creativity and all manner of human purpose. Most of it I’ve never considered at all, especially the cooking aspect, at least not in the way that she explains it.

She talks about how our culture has phased out the night, treating it more like failed daylight than a time of slowness and silence, which she urges us to acknowledge as a correction of the day. I especially loved how she talked about the slim hour of time where the day and night meet, where the darkness slowly envelops the light.

City or country, that sundown hour is strange and exhilarating, as ordinary spatial relations are altered: trees rear up in their own shadows, buildings bulk out, pavements stretch forward, the red wrapper of brake lights turns a road into a lava flow.”

In the wintertime, this twilight, or “blue time”, as a friend of mine has coined, is my absolute favorite moment of the otherwise dark and chill that surrounds it.  It’s perfect for reflection, a cup of tea and the rather soothing way that the shadows turn the snow from white to opal to purple and then finally to the deepest blue-black of a December night.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough to lift our eyes to the sky, we can be rewarded with sunsets like this:

Which, to my utmost surprise on this particular evening, not only painted the western horizon in this creative and colorful light, but tossed pastel tinted clouds all over the eastern sky as well….

And the sight of it all nearly gave me whiplash as I spun back and forth trying to catch the prime moments happening on both sides of me. With this kind of beauty ushering in our winter darkness, it almost seems a shame to turn on the lights and chase away the winter night. But that’s what we do. Most of the time anyway. For one night, while the guys were gone, I decided to defy that urge and do what Winterson suggests. Sit among the dark, with a fire and candles, and relax in the moment. I actually looked forward to the hours ahead. But I cheated just a little in terms of light though, loving the twinkling look of this bakers rack that resides in the corner of our kitchen.

Fortified after an intense outing on my cross country skis, I made sure that a simple dinner was on hand. A baked sweet potato and a cabbage salad seemed perfect for a solitary night with a few candles and the fireplace. I wished the evening was temperate enough to be out at the fire pit, enjoying the crackling of a true wood fire. Our gas fireplace as all the ambiance of watching a bunsen burner, but the warmth it puts out left the room cozy and comforting. The cats settled on the sofa with me, the contentment seemingly catchy. The flickering candles had a soothing effect on my thoughts, and I found that I had no urge to push through the hours until I could go to bed. It was a nice surprise to find that I really was enjoying myself. With 2010 bearing down on me, and a less than stellar 2009 fading in the rearview mirror, I welcomed the opportunity to reflect and look forward to starting something new again. I enjoyed my simple meal, and more importantly, my own solitary thoughts. I likely will repeat this in the coming months. Anything to break up the monotony of those long, dark hours. I hope it instills in me a new appreciation of these inevitable winter months.

“Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have. Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.”

And it was more, for one night anyway.

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Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

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