In Praise of a Dependable Chain

img_5102-1I spend a lot of this blog talking about how much I want to eat out less, spend more time cooking, know more about the origins of my food, etc. While all of those things are definitely true, let’s not be unclear: I love eating at restaurants!

I don’t need them to be fancy; I love eating at the counter at Waffle House and I love trying tiny, fancy tapas at a swanky Spanish restaurant with candles on the tables. I like the interaction, the fact that I have so many options but I don’t have to come up with exactly what I want; I just have to identify it among many great choices.

I love that while my food is cooked, I can talk to my friends or to Husband, and I love guzzling tall glasses of water that I tend to forget to drink when I’m making my own meals or eating on the go at work. I like the sitting-down, doing-nothing-else of it.

Husband and I went to a big sit-down chain restaurant last night, a Chili’s, and I was reminded again how nice it is to go to a restaurant. I’m not a big fan of the little computers they keep on the tables, but it does help them save on costs and keep things quick for the servers, which I can appreciate in the prices. I loved eating something totally different from my husband; I liked my food, but I also loved stealing some of his. We were too full for an included dessert, so there was cheesecake to take home.

What I’ve loved most about my favorite restaurants is that some part of our experience is colored by the chef or the server or the bartender who talks to us about the life of the restaurant; that doesn’t really happen at Chili’s, but it still occurs to me, just in the easy kindness of our server last night who was clear and got us our food very quickly. There are times when a reasonably priced, super tasty, and convenient meal is just what I want. When I’m healthy and well rested, I’m all for taking things the long way with home gardening, home cooking, and restaurants that prioritize the local and seasonal, but I sure to appreciate the systems that allow me to, on a whim, decide to take a break for a night.

Valentine’s Is for Cookbooks!

Because I was still recovering from the sniffles this morning, Husband set up my present for me before I came downstairs: a cookbook! It looks wonderful and I wanted to share it with you all. Her website is here: http://www.simplebites.net/my-cookbook-brown-eggs-jam-jars/ While making a cookbook isn’t one of my aspirations, it’s always so lovely when a fellow blogger realizes this dream. Check it out!bejj-cover-final-e1421631517405

The Break Days in February

Every year does not give me breaks in February, but this year, I needed them. Yesterday, rather than being buried under snow and ice, we had breezy 63 degree weather and sunshine over the river that runs through our small city. We didn’t really need the coats we compulsively put on because it’s February. I saw kids outside in shorts, playing quick pick-up games of soccer and basketball just to get their legs stretched out from the long winter slumber.

I need a break sometimes, and if I don’t take it on purpose my body tends to give it to me – sometimes in the form of a 5 hour long headache where I curl up on the couch and don’t emerge till twilight. In the years of being an adult, I’ve gotten better and worse at listening to my body, but I am starting to really appreciate any day when my body works well, lets me produce the things I need to produce each day, let’s me clean and cook and work and write. I think often of those who are confined to their homes because of long-term illness and I pray that they too have their forms of breaks, because I am often so unkind to myself for my body’s inabilities. We have a lot to learn from the patience of those who have to move slowly by no fault of their own.

When the pain goes away, though, and when the sun breaks through in February, I don’t dwell on the long to-do list that I am now far behind on – I usually revel in the joy of being better, of being warmer. For a few hours yesterday after my headache, Husband and I took a long walk and got meatballs for dinner at an outdoor food truck by the river. I didn’t move quickly because I still felt weak, but every moment that I wasn’t curled up on the couch was a miracle. These rises, these returns, are some of the most pure feelings I ever have.

The Ultimate Decadence: Baked Brie Bites

img_5144

One really decadent food kept coming to me while we were on Whole30 – I’m sure everyone while on this journey has something of the kind. I wanted baked brie: I wanted the flaky crust, toasted but still buttery, with the pooling, near-liquid cheese on the inside, with it’s characteristic sweet and strange tang. I knew this wasn’t something I wanted twice; I knew one time would be enough to put it to bed. As we were shopping for veggies at one point, I saw a prepared baked brie with a heart shape on top that you could take home and bake for valentine’s day – it was 15 dollars. It was in my mind this weekend as I shopped.

Instead of a 15 dollar perfect brie, Husband and I improvised: a small wedge of brie for 2.50 and a pie crust on sale for 50 cents. we cut pieces of crust, heated up the oven, and cut lumps of brie to wrap up in the crust. After this weekend, we’re returning to near-Whole30 for a lot of our meals, trying to jam-pack our lives with veggies and fruit, but this was our splurge (among a lot of others): these perfect little bites.

We tried them with three toppings: I put a tiny pat of almond butter on one, a smear of crystallized honey on another, and a dusting of rosemary and garlic on the last. I like savory, so that last one thrilled me, but the others were delightful too, and fully satisfied my craving. Sometimes that’s what you need – a long week and a long, lingering head cold left me there, feeling nothing but gratitude for cheese and crust, even as I know that I’m about to dive back in to the piles of celery and cucumber and bell peppers. I recommend wrapping bits of brie in pie crust any day you need this too!

Strawberries and Cream (Cheese) Pancakes!

IMG_5143.JPGSaturday morning has been like the breath after a storm lately, the only time of the week when I don’t notice how long I am working on something, or how long I have to get up and get ready and go go go. This morning, I googled pancake recipes (I liked mine but didn’t love it, so I recommend just going with your favorite; I do recommend lots of vanilla extract and butterscotch flavoring if you have it!), heated frozen strawberries, and added dots of cream cheese to each warm pancake. I will say, I’ve been really impressed with “white whole wheat flour” (I have King Arthur brand, but I haven’t tried any others yet) – it makes the recipe a little grittier and darker than average whole wheat flour, but still works up with the consistency of white flour. It’s a good compromise, especially for Husband who does not deal with whole wheat well.

These pancakes, let me tell you. It wasn’t fancy, or beautiful (I attached a picture pretty much just to show how non-romantic my photos were) – I was honestly quite grouchy and unpleasant, and Husband did the thing where he went fairly quiet and fairly upbeat just to weather my mood. But man, the combination of sweet and tart fruit, wholesome pancakes, and just a rich morsel of cream cheese will melt even the most stubborn giant.

Pancakes, even when they are a little charred with the first batch as the pan gets going, are a little like love, which has on my mind with Valentine’s coming. It’s our second Valentine’s in marriage, and while I still feel like I’m learning constantly, I’m starting, very slowly, to see that this is what life is: messy, requires adjustment, but is so surprisingly sweet so often. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have him around me, to have him weather the days with me. I love that he delves into his food and grins and says “good pancakes, hon” and asks me what I want to do today. Messy, but unbelievably sweet.

6 Recent Kitchen Staples

I haven’t been very innovative in my cooking lately, but these 6 things get me through the busy weeks with my sanity intact. What 6 things make your kitchen function?

  1. frozen chicken breasts – It’s simple, no-bone meat, but it tastes good quickly or in a crockpot recipe, which saves me when there’s no time to develop something or choose a meat with finicky needs for cooking.
  2. canned tomatoes – I love the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, but in the winter, I just have to stock more cans of tomatoes and tomato paste than I expect to need, because making up a pasta sauce or a curry is a fast way to add a lot of veggies, warmth, and spice into my life.
  3. Cut cucumbers, celery, carrots, and peppers – The amount of good veggies I eat is pretty much proportional to how many I have on hand, washed, and cut. This means taking some time at the beginning of the week to get them into shape, but it definitely pays off when the veggies are handy at the vulnerable, late-afternoon moments when I’m trying to decide whether to get fast food or wait for dinner.
  4. Sparkling water – I never thought I’d be a flavored sparkling water fan, but I really like it – it’s not sweet, and doesn’t even have artificial sweetness, but it is just different enough from drinking plain water to feel special. I’ve substituted it for most of my idle wine, soda, and juice consumption, saving those three for special occasions instead.
  5. Whole bean coffee – It just goes without saying that having a tasty hot beverage at the ready is important, but Husband has convinced me that it’s worth the minutes of grinding the beans to have a cup of coffee that just explodes with flavor.
  6. Kale – for kale chips! They crisp up so fast and I can eat a whole bundle of kale in a sitting this way, with little more than a dash of olive oil and salt to season it.

There are obviously many other things in my kitchen, but these are the basics on which all the others depend. What are yours?

Simplifying the Wardrobe

I don’t really talk about clothing on this blog – not exactly connected to cooking! – but lately, I’ve been really experiencing a life change because of the 333 project, which I learned about from the Minimalism documentary on Netflix.

I have always been one of those girls who organizes closet and dresser and then, three days later, has mountains of clothes everywhere, nothing folded or put away. The principle of the 333 challenge is that by selecting a very specific, small amount of clothes and rotating them every week for 3 months, you keep your living space uncluttered, only wash the clothes you need, and always know that something you like is available to wear, cutting down on decision-making time.

Basically, I picked 33 “items,” deciding on tops and dresses and leggings and pants that could intermingle easily to make more than 7 outfits. I picked the things best for the weather this time of year, and put everything else I owned in another part of the house, boxed up. You have to be willing to wear essentially the same things every week for 12 weeks, but the benefits are insane!

I have been able to wake up 5 minutes later and with less stress about the idea of picking an outfit, which is wonderful before work. My floor is effortlessly clean, and since Husband is doing this too, we’ve cut down on laundry: before, we’d run 2-3 loads a weekend, partially because he couldn’t tell what needed washing and what really just needed to be picked up and hung on a hanger. Now we run one load of laundry, which is so much nicer and even a little more sustainable. I’m prepared for these clothes to wear out quicker than when I was rotating among a ton of things, but now that I know what things I really like, I think I’m more in a mindset to get things repaired so I can go on wearing the ones I like best.

In another two months, spring will be inching into my life again and so I’ll sub out this “wardrobe” for 7ish outfits worth of spring weather wear. It’ll be like getting an entirely new wardrobe! It’s not Steve Jobs style, where he always wore the same thing, but I kind of like that – only those closest to me will notice that I have only 7 outfits in rotation, and that’s fine with me! I’ll tell them how freeing, uncluttered, and environmentally-friendly these weeks have been.

Tasty Snacks – Match Made Coffee!

img_5131

I love the idea of taste-testing these snacks that came with my Match Made Coffee subscription box, sharing bits and bites with Husband, but that’s not how it ended up happening this week. Instead, since Husband is easing out of Whole30 slower than I am, they became quick breakfasts with my cups of coffee each day, which was lovely and meant that I got to try 3 new sweet treats but without having a whole box of each kind to tempt me!

Walker’s Shortbread with Guatemala Antigua: Shortbread is one of my favorite sweet/salty combinations, so this one would have been a winner regardless. This snack was perfect for the person who cannot stomach cloying sweet treats but who likes a rich addition to a cup of black coffee.

Tunnock’s Real Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafers with Organic French Roast: These caramel wafers have been compared to a Kit-Kat bar with a thick stripe of caramel down the middle – super sweet and perfect with a cup of milky french roast. This combination works well but I wouldn’t sweeten your coffee too much – the snack does that trick well.

Nature’s Bakery Peach Apricot Fig Bar with Espresso Roast: This was the only snack that felt wholesome and healthy (nothing wrong with butter and chocolate, though!) – it includes three kinds of dried fruit with whole-grain crust to make a decadent, more-than-average-fig-newton kind of fruit bar. Unlike the others, this gave me a sustained energy level and tasted delightful alongside another Aeropress coffee cup.

It was nice that the snacks appealed to the sweet tooth, the person who wants a rich but less sweet morsel, and the health side! They were well chosen for dark roasts too; the espresso and french are among the darkest available, and the Guatemala Antigua tasted on the dark side of medium to me. With slight bitter notes in the coffee itself, a selection of sweet notes was the perfect counterbalance!

 

Want to do your own coffee and snacks taste test? Check out Match Made Coffee and see for yourself the fun surprise of treats in the mail!

65. Six Sister’s 30-min Yeast Rolls

I am very charmed by the idea of Six Sisters Stuff, the blog where I found this recipe – all the six girls keep in touch and post on the blog together, which as a sole blogger, I have to admit I envy. I love writing often but given my desire to build community, I would welcome a second or third blogger to take over some days… let me know if you are interested 🙂

The yeast rolls sounded too good to be true: yeast bread takes so long to rise! The key to these rolls is that they have tons of yeast in them. This is the recipe to pull out when you have a jar of yeast that is getting a little older and needs to get used up – two whole tablespoons. But sure enough: 10 minutes to let the yeast bloom, 10 minutes of resting once the ingredients are all combined and put into roll-shapes, and something like 10 minutes to cook. It was more like 45 minutes in my scattered world, but definitely manageable while making dinner; in my case, manageable while ill. I am so glad to feel better now; it feels like a dim memory to have been so sick and now feel much better.

Speaking of getting well, I had these rolls sitting out on the counter in a bowl on Tuesday and one of the ways I knew that I was getting better, besides just having more energy, was that instead of just looking like something neutral, the way all food had for days, I was actually intrigued and excited about the rolls – the return of appetite is a strange thing. I am glad to be regaining my strength – Husband made some barbeque pork chops and I made veggies in the GoSun, and finally we got to eat a lovely meal together, complete with the last of the yeast rolls.

Why Bread?

IMG_4618

My first return to the New best bread ever – easy-to-make Peasant Bread recipe after Whole30 yielded a gorgeous loaf, with all the caramelizing edge of the bowl from the real, non-clarified butter used to make it. I’ve been eating it with goat cheese as my breakfasts and yes, that is the farthest thing from “continuing Whole30” but after today or tomorrow, it will be gone. I’m still figuring out how to do this, you know…

I read an article the other day about how there is a gentleman who bakes lots of bread and gives it out, still warm, to all his neighbors. I feel like this would be my favorite thing; I want to spend a whole day baking, rotating loaves from rising into the oven and wrapping them up and taking them to the people nearby. At the very least, I like bringing a warm loaf to a party, where it can be sliced up and eaten before it even has a chance to get cold (though, truth be told, peasant bread sets up over night and is easier to slice and toast the next day! magic, I tell you.) I know that a lot of folks have been realizing that sugar and gluten are messing with their insides, not really nourishing them, but oh, how I like the way a piece of bread feels. The nourishment is psychological, in this case.

To this end, I’m embarking on an experiment – gulp – I’m going to try to find a gluten-free bread that I enjoy making and eating. Rising is a whole other animal when you are not using wheat flour, but I can work through it, and I’ve got a few bags of “alternative flours” anyway that need to stop gathering dust (or providing dust?) in my cabinets. Wish me luck, and think “peasant bread” thoughts at me, so that maybe my loaves of less-unhealthy breads will be so good that I want to share them too!