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Friday, November 4, 2016

No Mess November

What is No Mess November? I am so glad you asked! It's a chance to re-center yourself, re-energize, refresh yourself before (hopefully) the onslaught of winter holidays and prepare for the new year! It's about cutting out the mess, whether that be literal, like taking the trash to the curb every time, or the more metaphorical mess. Like not wading into a political argument with your bully of an uncle at Thanksgiving.

Myself, I am doing one thing a day at work and at home to either literally clean up my mess or metaphorically do it. That's my goal, just ONE thing a day. Yesterday I got a second wind at work and took care of a phone call I had been dreading making. As it usually goes I had built this up into a much bigger deal than it actually was. I also took a few extra minutes and cleared off my desk and emptied my wastepaper basket.

When I got home I made that one pan chicken dish and while it cooked I unloaded and re-loaded the dishwasher. After my dinner was out of the oven I kept the oven on and roasted a whole pan of Brussels Sprouts and onions so that they could cook while we ate dinner. While the sprouts cooled I helped my little one with Math, which would try the patience of a saint. She's ADHD and I am just ADD. So here I am trying to pay attention for the both of us and she's bouncing across the room and attempting a half-gainer off the end of the couch. I put the sprouts in a storage container and put them in the fridge, got the last of the dishes into the dishwasher and hit start. Then I went to bed.

That sounds like a cozy domestic scene, yeah? Not so much really. There's laundry that's been chilling on the couch for so long, at this point it's become a member of the family. The dining room table is covered in random detritus from where a shelf came down last week and left me no place to put my assorted cookware. I had to feed the kids at a makeshift "coffee table" I put up in the living room. My husband had a blinding headache and wasn't his usual ultra helpful self. My dog was ignoring her kibble and jumping from child to child trying to make them spill some precious, precious chicken.

So, my life, is kind of a glorious mess. No Mess November is about taking a moment to make things a little bit cleaner, a little bit calmer and a little bit kinder every day.

Please follow #NoMessNovember on social media! If you like you can also follow me on Facebook!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Greens, Potatoes and Chicken

I was having one of those days, one of those weeks actually, where meal planning goes out the window and all your best intentions get wiped out once you hit the front door. Work has been very hectic lately, my husband has been ill, the kids have been in a mood, even the dog decided to wake me up every half hour on the hour last night. So as I drove home talking to my husband via cell phone he told me the closest he had gotten to starting dinner was defrosting some chicken thigh fillets. He offered to go pick something up for dinner.

As tempting as that was, we have been eating out way too much and that's not good for our health or our wallets. I knew I had some sad vegetables in the fridge that needed to be cooked or tossed STAT so I told him to meet me at home.

I started finishing the defrosting of the chicken in the microwave while I surveyed the vegetable situation. A 16 ounce bag of collards that had seen better days, several onions and a cereal bowl full of white creamer potatoes. I formulated a plan for a one pan meal that would hopefully feed my family of 4.

I rinsed and sorted through my sad collards, some of them were wilted beyond salvation, but most of it was fine. I put it in a sheet pan. To that I added one thinly sliced onion, and I halved lengthwise all of the creamer potatoes. I tossed them all with generous slugs of olive oil (maybe 1/4 C all together?) some sea salt and some black pepper.

When the chicken was good and defrosted I opened up each fillet and seasoned them on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika (mostly for color). I placed the chicken thighs on top of my oily, salty veggies and then placed aluminum foil over the whole thing and put it an oven set at 450 degrees. I let the chicken cook covered for 20 minutes. When that was up I checked the chicken and vegetables and decided to roast everything uncovered for another 20 minutes to get some color and finish cooking.

When I pulled the pan out of the oven everything was browned and crispy. Even some of the fronds of collard greens had turned crisp! I took the chicken and placed a piece or two on every plate, then I tossed the hot vegetables together in the pan one more time to coat everything in pan juices and served the green and potatoes alongside the chicken pieces.

Variations of recipe:

You could toss the vegetables with a mixture of olive oil and bacon fat if you had some on hand. You could even add bacon pieces to the pan and let it cook with the chicken.

You could add a 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the greens as well for a nice kick of heat.

You could use a good baking potato cut up into one inch pieces in place of the creamer potatoes, or you could use turnip greens and turnip pieces in place of collards and potatoes.

Instead of using boneless, skinless chicken thighs you could use chicken leg quarters, but I'd separate the drumstick from the quarter and add more time for cooking. Maybe an additional 10 minutes?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Mother's day is tomorrow if you have a mom you'd like to make breakfast for may I suggest this lovely, easy meal.


Make the pancake batter first, shake up some Bisquick or make this delicious fool proof recipe from Deep South Dish. I found some expired milk lurking in the back of the fridge. (What? Like that never happens to you? I'm not here for your judgement.) Sour (not spoiled) milk makes a great substitute for buttermilk and is perfect for baking too. Let the batter rest while you make the rest of the breakfast. That nice crispy bacon gets cooked first. Having made bacon in a variety of ways, stove top, oven, microwave, I have to say the crispiest bacon is often made on a flat cooking griddle. The greater cooking area and precise heat control means you get the best results. While the bacon is frying get out a small sauce pan and make some blueberry compote!

1.5 pints of blueberries, separated into 3 half pint measures.
3 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Take a half pint of blueberries, and put it in the sauce pan with the lemon juice, water and sugar, stir and heat on medium heat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the second half pint of blueberries, cook an additional 3 minutes and then add the last half pint of blueberries and cook for 5 more minutes. Take off of the heat and set aside until ready to serve.

The potato rosti come frozen in a box from IKEA. When the bacon is done they are simply fried in a little cooking spray on each side for two minutes, when serving top with a little bit of sour cream and a sprinkle of parsley. Keep warm, wrapped in foil and a towel until breakfast is ready.

Finally cook your pancakes, smaller cakes cook faster and are more fun to eat. Top with compote and enjoy with a nice cup of coffee or tea.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Quick Quiche

This recipe is a great way to use a leftover portion of green vegetables from a previous meal. You know that one generous scoop of asparagus or broccoli or spinach that didn't get eaten but you don't want to throw out? Make it into a delicious weekend breakfast.

INGREDIENTS:

About half a cup of chopped vegetables. I used some cooked leftover broccoli and a chopped half an onion.
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks**
1/2 Cups half and half (or equivalent mixture of milk and cream)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
pinch fresh grated nutmeg (optional)
1 9- inch par baked pie shell (warm), baked until light golden brown. I used a frozen Pillsbury deep dish pie shell, thawed 15 minutes and then baked for about 10. Don't forget to prick the crust all over with a fork.
About of 1/4 C of mixed cheeses. I used swiss and mozzarella and they were great!

INSTRUCTIONS:

The center of the quiche will be soft and slightly jiggly when it comes out of the oven, but the filling will continue to firm up and even sink a little as it cools.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop leftover green veggies and set aside. Dice half an onion and then cook in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a small pat of butter. Cook until onions are fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. I use a pinch of salt to help the onions break down in the pan. Next whisk all remaining ingredients (except cheese!) in a medium sized bowl.

2. Spread cheeses evenly over bottom of warm pie shell. Place vegetables on top of cheese. If you're smart you will put the quiche on the oven rack at this point and then pour the egg/half and half mixture into it from a measuring cup. If you're not so smart (like me) you have to carefully transfer a very full pie plate to the hot oven rack and hope for the best. Bake until lightly golden brown and the center looks like a soft jelly, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer quiche to rack to cool about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

So, estimating, 10 minutes veggie prep and 10 minutes to bake the pie shell and 35 minutes to bake the quiche and then 15 minutes to cool, what's so quick about this recipe?

It's all in how you plan and stage it! Bake the pie shell while you are prepping the veggies and filling. Pull the pie shell out and fill it according to instructions. While your quiche is cooking, DON'T LEAVE THE KITCHEN! Stay there and unload and reload the dishwasher, clear the table. Put away all the ingredients from making breakfast. When the quiche cools, set the table with real plates and cups. Sit down with your family or your own awesome self and enjoy a real tasty breakfast and bask in your own glory.

**Easiest way to separate eggs from yolks? Crack the egg. Pour the egg into your own cupped palm. The whites will spill through your fingers into a waiting bowl, put the yolks in with your half and half and whole eggs. Egg whites can be frozen for later use.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February Lunch Challenge

I am taking my lunch to work every day for the entire month of February. Here's how it's going so far...

February 1st: Oh, crap, forgot I was doing this. What do I have? What do I have? A single tortilla, some leftover Mexican rice, some cheese? Okay. It's a cheese and rice-a-rrito, I also have an avocado and some salsa to throw in my lunch box. At lunchtime, I nuke the rice-a-rrito, top with salsa and cut up and cube half an avocado.

Feburary 2nd: WHY DIDN'T I GO TO THE STORE LAST NIGHT?! Tiny single serving hummus tub, sandwich baggie of tortilla chips, the rest of that avocado, salt from my tears.

February 3rd: Publix is on my way home. WHY do I just drive by? Leftover veggie stir fry rice from dinner, but if I don't hit the grocery store on the way home our next dinner will be saltines and cheese with ketchup.

The stir fry last night was made of limp celery from the back of the hilariously named "crisper" drawer, a semi-soft yellow bell pepper, a handful of drying out baby carrots and an onion that was beginning to sprout. When I opened the pantry to get out the rice a freaking MOTH flew out at me in an accusatory fashion.

Bonus Lunch News: The children's lunches went like this today, 12 year old gets full size PB&J and 7 year old got a single slice of bread sandwich made cut into 2 pieces and made into a half sandwich. Rationing is IN EFFECT. Both of them got some rice crackers I found in the back of a shelf and 2 slices of muenster cheese (I'm out of cheese sticks). 2 loose apple sauce cups (one green apple, one with cinnamon) were tossed in along with "Fruit by the Foot" (AKA lunch candy) to round it out. I told them to eat their emergency graham crackers in their book bags if they got too hungry.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Blue Christmas

I am basically a happy person. I don't go *looking* for things to be unhappy about. I partake in the news as sparingly as I can while still staying informed. My natural inclination is to look for "bright sides" and "silver linings". But there is something about all of the sort of compulsory good cheer around the holidays that sets my teeth on edge, like too sweet frosting. It ignores a lot of the very real aspects of the nativity story for one thing, a pregnant woman traveling over rough terrain, seeking only shelter to have her baby in peace. I think about Mary being far away from her mother and her cousin at a time when women were routinely attended to by family in their time of childbirth. I think about her flight to Egypt shortly after giving birth, running away from a genocidal king who is randomly killing newborns.

I also think about more modern concerns. People who are lonely, and depressed, away from their families or friends, separated by death or distance or disease. I worry about colder weather being brutal for the homeless and the poor. And then of course there is the existential dread that seems to come in December as well. Is it something atavistic in us that fears the longer nights and dead and dying plants? Is it the ending of the year but before the fresh and shiny and fleeting hopefulness of New Year's? I'm not sure.

I just know that even as a child I felt like I could feel my life slipping away at Christmas. At age six, surrounded by toys and grandparents and aunts and uncles, I turned to my five year old sister and solemnly told her, "Christmas will never be this good again."

So while most of the time I am baking cookies and visiting friends and even throwing god-damn compulsory caroling parties and trimming the tree, in the quiet times of the night, the long hours between midnight and morn, I think of T.S. Eliot's poem about a similar feeling of both joy and dread.

The Journey Of The Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

All this to say... a blue Christmas, a sad Christmas is Christmas still.

And now a weepy, blue, tear-stained playlist to get you through the worst of it.

Hard Candy Christmas
River
If We Make it Through December
Please Come Home for Christmas
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve
Someday at Christmas
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Merry Christmas Darling
That Was the Worst Christmas Ever
Christmas Lights
Christmas Time is Here
In the Bleak Midwinter
Stille Nacht
Walking in the Air

PS Why this stopped letting me embed links I do not know. Merry Christmas.

PS UPDATE: I think they are all embedded now. It's a Christmas miracle.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On a bicycle built...for 5?


Remember that feeling, leading up to Christmas, where there was one physical object that you wanted with all of your heart? My mother stood in line at midnight once to get me and my two sisters those coveted circa 1985 Cabbage Patch dolls. Then one pre-teen year I REALLY really wanted a stereo for my room with double cassette decks, perfect for recording your favorite songs off the radio. I haven't really wanted anything like that in a long time.

I mean, I want a house. Okay. I bought a car a few years ago, but I didn't WAAAAAAANT it. I mean, it's a Hyundai. I bought it because it has a KILLER warranty and great gas mileage. It's a very grown-up version of wanting.

But this ridiculous bicycle, that is LITERALLY a "surrey with a fringe on top", I want it like 6 year old me wants a Barbie.

Am I foolish? This thing looks awesome RIGHT? I mean HOW CUTE WOULD THIS BE, all of us biking to the store or what not. Tooling around bike trails and having fun? I mean, the only thing keeping me from bicycling more often is the *crippling* loneliness and having to be the only one pedaling. I mean, that sucks, right?

I know, I know. There's a zillion reasons why I shouldn't get this, and it doesn't matter that I want one so bad. I know my parents won't get me one (nor should they). Husband said NO because he hates fun and loves to CRUSH MY DREAMS. I'm not going to buy one because I am an adult who has yet to make her yearly contribution to (or even start a) 401K.

The way I see it, my only choice is this...

Dear Santa,

I have been exceptionally good this year. I have cut way back on the swearing, I brush my teeth, I never, ever hit people with my car. So I was wondering, if you and the elves could whip me up one of these things, preferrably with the gold accessories package that includes LED headlamps and a wire basket trunk for some groceries. THANK YOU SANTA!

I'll always believe (especially if you get me one of these)

XOXOX-- Suzanne