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.

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.

Match Made Coffee 2: Organic French Roast

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One Sunday afternoon, Husband and I were trying to get the motivation to power through the 2pm slump and somewhat failing – blame potatoes and chicken-and-apple sausage from lunch, I suppose, or the swim we took after church. So he suggested we try the Organic French Roast from Match Made Coffee’s subscription box.

If their Guatemala Antigua was smooth, this roast was deep – with a caramelized side that was almost carbon-like, just a little tiny bit of burn that characterizes dark roast coffee. French roast is, after all, on the very darkest end of coffee roasts, and instead of tasting like the bean it originally came from, it’s going to be sugary, chocolatey, and delicious.

It’s also nice to be drinking organic coffee; while you might not taste it, the organic coffee bean contains far fewer of the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that conventional coffee contains, and it doesn’t contribute to climate change or deforestation nearly as much as conventional practices. Sure, these choices make the coffee a little more expensive, but when it’s included in your $29.99 a month box, you are just getting added value for no extra cost.

I appreciate the dark roast because Husband tends to pick out light and medium roasts, and French roast is a special treat that my mom and I used to share at home. Drinking it this afternoon and writing, I feel like I’ve been given the permission to remember good coffee times as snow drifts lazily outside. It’s a lovely feeling.

Match Made Coffee was recently featured on NBC San Diego here, and you can check out their product online here.

Whole30 in the books

Husband and I have completed Whole30! He’s been more committed than I have to the process of reintegration, whereby you add a single item back to your diet (legumes, sugar, dairy, etc.) every 3 days to see how those things make you feel. I went a little overboard and tried a lot of things in only two days and ended up feeling TERRIBLE. I’ve gone back on mostly veggies and fruits and meats, and I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel.

I think I got lulled into the month long change and figured that my iron-stomach would return instantly after the break from gluten and cheese, but I was incorrect. It turns out, my body thrives on whole foods, and my mood and energy level is so dependent now on eating well! I am realizing that I cannot go back to the doubt and disappointment in myself that came with eating whatever looked tastiest. It’s a hard decision, but I think I’m going to become basically all-Whole30 for the meals in my life that I have control over, be they at work or at home.

With restaurants, parties, and social events, it’s worth a little languor to participate, to not be fussy, and to sample the wonderful foods that others make and share with me. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim myself toward the healthiest options, because I’m realizing that the full-life feeling I’ve been having lately, where there seem to never be enough hours in the day, is only sustainable if I’m also aiming to feel 100% whenever I can. I don’t have time for a mid-afternoon slump, and no amount of coffee can create the clear head that a good, veggie and protein rich lunch can.

I’m still not convinced that everyone needs Whole30 (lots of people seem to have the moderate-consumption-of-unhealthy-food thing down!) but I have been convinced that it is working for me. The one deliberate add in I’m excited about is alternate proteins, including beans, quinoa, and tofu, because I am a little sick of meat at so many meals! It’s a little more sustainable and I never seem to overeat on quinoa, so it’s an adaptation that works quite well for me. 🙂

56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. 🙂

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45. G’s Sourdough Bread

I know, I’ve made seventy gajillion kinds of bread lately. Call it a brief infatuation with the ol’ stand mixer… and a long-standing love affair with bread.

Recently, a student where I work gave me some sourdough starter that he and his mother have had since they lived in California years ago. He told me how to use it, how to keep it happy or let it go dormant in the fridge, and I was incredibly excited to try it out. I had a recipe from a blogger (thanks, Roast Smoke and Malt!) and a container of back-up store-bought yeast just in case, and I had a looooooong summer day to let it all rise and get perfectly puffy.

For the most part, I’d say it worked! I put a little bit of butter on top that I expected would melt in and become indistinguishable but instead it made for that weird discoloration, so maybe don’t do that, but the bread itself was wonderful – I ended up using back up yeast and adding enough flour to get me back to the same consistency after I added the activated yeast-in-water, but I still gave it an insane few hours of rising, probably close to 6 all told, and the final product had that sour tang to it that makes sourdough distinctive. I want to give it a chance to rise overnight next time, but for a first attempt, this certainly isn’t bad.

Dough hooks are your friend with this bread, as with so many – I would love to hear if people have a great success with handmade, not mixer-made, doughs, but I feel like having the mixer is my game changer.

Sourdough is such a cool food because it’s a bit like also having a pet (a pet you kill in the oven… perhaps not the best analogy after all) because you have to keep the starter alive, feed it, put it in the fridge to go dormant, etc. I like that I met G, who I hadn’t run into at work until that day, and got to share his life story by taking some of this starter. I hope to someday figure out a preferred recipe and grow the starter enough to give it to others myself!

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The second loaf, which rose beautifully.

Food Memory: A Cozy Host

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One time, Husband and I stayed at an AirBnB, an accommodation where people rent out a spare room for a night or two. It was inexpensive, and these people were so kind while still being so busy: we spent a whole evening together watching extreme sports videos while the hostess worked on a painting and chatted with us, and her husband showed us all the improvements they were in the process of making to their old farmhouse. This breakfast (I swear they gave us more than bacon, but they were quite generous with the bacon!) made me feel like I was staying with friends, not just with people who wanted a little extra cash.