Beautiful Glimpses

I believe that music is the gateway to time travel. Is that a bold statement? Maybe. However, I’ve been transported to so many places old or unexplored that I can’t deny it being plausible. There is a mysterious little switch in each song that connects to the individual’s temporal lobes, firing at will and sending trillions of synapses dancing in one’s brain. Like having a home button that gets pressed without my asking for it, I hear one song and suddenly I’m back in the days of my youth sitting cross-legged on velvet floral couches in friends’ basements, feeling invincible and laughing at the days to come, or driving up the Ridge and gazing at the stars while brooding over boys and the world’s unlimited supply of shortcomings. There are a few artists that open that door for me – Chris Carrabba, Connor Oberst, or even the short lived 90’s rock band Moonpools and Caterpillars and Heaven. It’s funny how one song can feel as familiar as home even when hearing it for the very first time, giving me beautiful glimpses of simpler times or seasons of growth and healing.

I’ve really been enjoying Cavalier in Clay these last few weeks for this very reason. Indie folk singer songwriter Brady Sklar started producing music in his bedroom when he was 17. Perhaps channeling some of the emotion of that age, his music has been flipping switches left and right for me. I stumbled upon his stuff fairly recently but can’t seem to turn it off  (Appalachia and When it Rains, it Pours, especially). And now I’m suddenly driving home from the lake and it’s raining pretty hard, but the sun is just setting beneath the angry cloud cover and there is a fiery ray of light hitting the drops on my windshield sending molten globes spinning into the sky. I’m upset but I’m also okay because I’m filled with an overwhelming confidence that there is hope for me, that I will always have a home regardless of where I am in life or in the world.

So what about you dear friends? Are there any songs or musicians that give you beautiful glimpses into your past or future or send you home when you least expect it?

Advertisements

The Last of the Really Great Muffins

Have you heard of the Whangdoodle? He lived among us at one time, and was the wisest, the kindest, and the most extraordinary creature in the world. However, fearing that people were losing their imaginations in the pursuit of power and greed, the Whangdoodle disappeared, going off to create his own magical world where creatures like him could live in peace and love*. Except for those that pursued him long ago on a once grand adventure, the Whangdoodle, to this day, has sadly become a thing of myth and has essentially been forgotten.

Today, as I leaned over the kitchen counter and munched on the last of my pumpkin muffins, I pondered this mysterious creature. I wished that I could tap into child me’s imagination again, to lose my inhibitions and journey to Whangdoodleland where the world is open for exploring and creating and for pursuing magical things just for the fun of it. Perhaps Whangdoodleland is only myth, but perhaps we could use the dream of this place and our own creativity to create a little bit of magic in our own land. Do I sound like a dreamy fairy princes? Those who spend time with young ones can attest to the great heights at which unbridled imagination soars. Why can’t this cardboard box become a home (or a chair or a table)? Why can’t these weeds plucked from the woods become a fantastic meal (with proper research and precaution, wild foraging is a marvelous thing)? And why couldn’t a muffin be both healthy and delicious?

I suppose these muffins must have little bit of magic in them to be called healthy and tasty at the same time. I mean, let’s be honest here. Muffins are really just cake in disguise. Any muffin in the supermarket being marketed as “healthy” under the guise of a “bran” label or some other nonsense are typically loaded with as much “bad” stuff as a candy bar. P.S. Have you ever had a Costco muffin? Holy moly are those good and so so bad at the same time. However, because they’re called muffins and not cupcakes they’re cool to eat for breakfast, right? Right?! Hah. Well, with all that in my mind, I resolved to use my imagination to seek out the mythical, healthy AND (key word) delicious muffin. Chocolate of course needed to be invited, because…chocolate. I also needed something to bring the substance, so nuts and dried fruit were in order. And finally, I had some leftover pureed pumpkin in my freezer that I was intending to use for a pumpkin roll (which, for those unfamiliar with this little gem, is cake and pumpkin and cream cheese and drooooool…), but that didn’t happen. It seemed a bit odd to make something so “fall-esque” in January, so on to the healthy muffin quest!

The Last of the Really Great Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 T flax meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (*Canned is fine. But making your own is so easy! I’ll post instructions when sugar pie pumpkins are back in season next fall)
One large egg

Mix Ins:
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit, chopped if larger pieces.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease a muffin tin. Mix your dry ingredients together then your wet. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Stir in your mix ins. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes. These muffins are moist so it’s okay if you insert a toothpick into one after your timer goes off and it comes out a little gummy.

*This creature’s story is told by Julie Andrews in The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which was one of my favorite books growing up and still is to this day. I highly recommend that you enjoy these muffins while reading this book to your children, or to your cat or just to yourself.

Life = Cereal

It’s never perfect, is it? Life. Just think of the flawlessly accomplished human beings we could be if only reality didn’t get in the way sometimes. We scheme and we strategize, then all of our plans blow out of the window in an instant like a leaf in the wind just because we missed the bus, or got an unexpected phone call, or work ran late. Real life is like this. It’s a bit grungy and disgruntled, like a hungry bear that’s never quite satisfied. Yet, it can also be truly beautiful in it’s imperfections. Sometimes real life is fresh fettuccine with a creamy seafood sauce that you lovingly prepared for you and your husband to dine on at the table by candlelight. And sometimes it’s a bowl of cereal and a handful of corn chips eaten on the couch in your sweatpants while your husband prepares you a cocktail because it’s simply been a long day. But let me tell you – While free evenings and homemade pasta is a glorious thing, cancelled plans and cereal on the couch is even more beautiful, because without a kitchen filled with dirty dishes and a time crunch, sweatpants-wearing, cereal-toting me got to sit and relax long enough to be able to dig into a meaningful conversation with my husband about the frightening bears in life as well as the sweet things: our dreams, goals, and dare I say, plans for our future.

Breakfast on the Go

I fight an ongoing battle with breakfast. I do enjoy the meal itself and its related foods on occasion, but I’m nothing like my husband who could eat breakfast for every meal of every day and be happy. One of my issues is that I find it difficult to eat a big meal first thing in the morning. My body never feels quite awake enough to power through an entire plate of eggs and bacon or an enormous bowl of oatmeal. I tend to be a black coffee and bite of toast kind of girl. I’ve also been in such a rush some mornings that I forget to grab anything at all, which means that a few hours into work I’m groggy, famished, and in desperate need of some protein.

photo 1

Looking through my refrigerator the other day I noticed a large package of deli ham that was reaching it’s use-by date, so I began thinking of ways to use it up quickly. Because both Gabe and I run on such a tight schedule during the week I’m a big fan of anything make-ahead that allows us to just grab and go, whether that is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We’d made eggy breakfast muffins before, but this time around I thought, “Why not skip the egg scrambling and use the ham as a vessel for baking a whole egg?” Now folks, out of curiosity I googled this idea. Apparently ham cups are a thing that people do (I should have known, considering the whole “bacon bowl” craze), so is nothing entirely new. However, it works great, tastes delicious, and is a wonderful way to get that much needed nutrition first thing in the morning. The cups are also not too big, so if you have a small appetite in the morning like I do, one (or two) are enough to hold you over.

The base ingredients are simple (ham and egg) so lend themselves well to many yummy additions. Make it your own! I chose to use some cherry tomatoes and green onion because that’s what I already had on hand, but almost anything would do. How about red peppers with a little crumbled chèvre? Or chopped bacon (MORE PIG!), a few pieces of thinly sliced apple and a little gruyere on top?

photo 2

I started by spraying a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray and layering a few slices of the ham into each cup to form the walls.

photo 3Next, I spooned in some diced cherry tomatoes and a little green onion. I cracked an egg into each cup and seasoned with salt, fresh ground pepper and a little dried basil (Fresh basil would be fabulous, but, again, sometimes you’ve just gotta clean out your fridge and use what you’ve got. Waste not want not!

photo 4

I then sprinkled the tops with a little cheddar cheese and put them in the oven to bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes. The cheese was melty, the ham crispy, and the eggs just set.

photo 5

Let them cool a little bit and PRESTO! Quick and easy morning fuel so there are no more mid-morning groggies. And look how cute they are. Wouldn’t these be fun to serve at a brunch?

On-the-go, clean-out-the-fridge baked ham and egg breakfast cups
aka Ham and Egg Cups

24 slices of ham
12 eggs
2 green onions, sliced
Half pint of cherry tomatoes, diced
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
Salt
Pepper
Dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Layer two slices of ham into each cup. Spoon some of the cherry tomatoes and green onion into each. Crack one egg into each cup. Season with salt, pepper and dried basil. Sprinkle some of the cheese on top of each one. If you will be eating these right away and would like runnier yolks then you’ll only need to bake these for about 13 minutes, just until the whites set and the ham gets crispy. If you will be making these ahead and storing in the fridge for later, I would suggest cooking the eggs a bit longer, from 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. Note that the eggs will continue to cook once you take them out, so it’s usually best to take them out a minute or so before you think you should based on looks. If you’re eating these for your weekday grab-and-go breakfast, simply wrap one in a paper towel and reheat for 1 1/2 minutes in your microwave.

Être heureux – To be happy

Many years ago, I started compiling a list of 100 things to be happy about. At the time it was more of a personal reflection on the blessings and good things in life. It was a reminder in dark places to look beyond the obstacle or hurt in front of me and to find happiness in sweet little everyday moments. As my list grew, so did my desire to share these happy thoughts with others. I began writing not only for myself but for my future children as well. It’s my hope that I can some day present my list to him/her on that inventible day when, if they are anything like their mom, their attempt to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders fails and life just seems too heavy. They can then take the reigns and begin adding their own happy thoughts until, someday, it becomes their turn to pass the list on to someone else.

I thought I would share a few things to be happy about on this stormy winter day:

#8: The gurgling sound that coffee makes when being poured into my favorite mug

#10: Hearing someone, somewhere in the distance, singing “Do you Hear the People Sing”

#31: Tagless T-shirts

#45: Having the ocean in my backyard and the mountains in my front

#82: Twinkle lights all year round

#86: Smiles from a stranger

#94: The fortitude of trees

Challenge #2 – Roasting the Bird

Growing up, my siblings and I often spent weekends at my grandparents’ home out in the country. A stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s was always a subdued affair. Mornings were spent quietly watching old cartoons or reading books we’d found in the attic. In the afternoons we would be banished to the backyard, where we’d feed grass to the neighbor’s horse, dare each other to eat crabapples, and generally try to stay out of trouble. Then, as the day drew to a close, we’d sit down to the same supper again and a again: Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and green vegetables. The chicken would be seasoned simply with pepper and salt. For the potatoes there would be some butter and maybe a grind or two from the mixed savory spice bottle that always sat at the table. For dessert there would maybe, just maybe, be a butterscotch candy in our future. Yep, my grandpa was a Werther’s man. He would slip them into our hands when grandma wasn’t looking. She was a firm believer in simple wholesome foods and in not spoiling appetites. To this day she still amazes me with her health and wellness habits. Without her, I probably would not have been turned on to the nutrition benefits of coconut oil, and there will forever be a bowl of vegetation scraps by her sink, ready for the compost pile and eventually the garden, where she goes to snack on sweet sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes.

While I may have loathed those repetitious dinners as a child, something in me now longs for that same meal on a regular basis. There seems to be something so special about the tradition of the Sunday supper, dishes built on expectancy and perfected over the years. In chef Marcus Samuelsson’s book Yes, Chef: a Memoir, he recalls the ritual of going to his Swedish grandmother’s house every Sunday as a young boy to help her prepare roast chicken. These experiences of cooking the same meal with his grandmother every week end up becoming the foundation and inspiration for him becoming a chef. Marcus’s story is an interesting one, and although there is much to him that I cannot relate with, I still share in his fondness for the comfort of tradition. I long to build that tradition with my family, to spend Sunday afternoons teaching my some-day children how to make cassoulet or apple pie or a perfectly roasted chicken.

The first time that I roasted a whole bird was Thanksgiving two years ago. It was a turkey, and while it turned out quite delicious, it also took five hours to cook. Since I’ve decided that I need more roast chicken in my life but don’t have hours to spare waiting for dinner to finish, I thought I would try a new technique that significantly cuts  down on cooking time. It is the butterfly.

photo 1I did a bit of research on this technique and found it to be fairly simple. First I put the thawed chicken on a cutting board breast side down and blotted it all over with paper towels to remove any excess water. * Note that dry skin helps it to crisp better in the oven and also prevents you from slipping and cutting yourself when you are butterflying it. Using my kitchen scissors I cut through the ribs down either side of the backbone then removed it from the bird.

Who knew about the keel bone? Did you?

Who knew about the keel bone? Did you?

I then opened the chicken up wide. Taking a knife, I sliced through the thin membrane covering the keel bone and slid my fingers underneath and leveraged it out. I also learned the name of a new bird bone and that they can be quite finicky the first time you try to pop one out.

photo 3

Flipping the bird over I then pressed on it with my hands to flatten it out, pulling the legs down a little bit. I loosened the skin at the neck and thighs with my fingers then distributed a mixture of minced garlic, olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and a little salt under the skin. I then drizzled the bird with canola oil inside and out and spread it all around.

photo 4

I don’t own a traditional roasting pan so made do with what I had. I knew I needed to keep the bird elevated for even cooking, so I took my 9 x 12 glass baking dish and loaded the bottom with some large chunks of carrots, celery and onion that I had in my fridge. I placed the bird on top of the veg in the pan, breast side up. I let the chicken cook for about 30 minutes on Broil, checking it often for even coloration. If you are following this and see that your bird’s skin is getting too dark, you can simply flip the whole thing over. I used a thermometer to check for doneness (165 F) then removed it from the oven. Warning: The smell WILL make you sigh with pleasure.

photo 5

After carving the chicken and taking my first bite, I have to say that the result was quite lovely – Crispy skin, tender meat, and the vegetables that had been roasting in the chicken jus underneath were divine as well. Even being pleased with my meal, I can always find room for improvement: some lemon zest here, a little rosemary there. A tradition must always begin with day one though, no? Here’s to many more roasted birds in my future, and yours as well!

And there was meat for days, or the story of the miraculous multiplying meat

My brother had flown up from San Diego to spend the holidays with me. After a few days in Bellingham, we drove 150 miles over to the Olympic Peninsula to see our family. Sweet and satisfying – We spent our trip soaking up familiar faces in familiar places as well as some new. It was just what I needed. On our last day we stopped at rustic bar down by the water and indulged in some really great beer before hitting the road out of town.

As I had mentioned in my previous post, there had been a generous amount of time spent imbibing on this trip and perhaps an insufficient amount of time spent “aguafying”. By the time we had reached the outskirts of this small city, we were already pondering our last supper, wishing it to be something of substance, something of speed. Fast food? Heaven forbid. We had already gorged ourselves on righteously sloppy burgers and seasoned fries at the infamous Frugal burger. But off to the left side of the road I noticed the blue flicker of a neon light and recognized it immediately. What started out as a roadside stand peddling house-smoked BBQ, quickly gained in popularity and eventually became a true walk-in, sit-down joint.

“There,” I said, pointing out the window. “We should eat BBQ there.” In my mind it wasn’t really up for discussion, but my husband and brother okay’d in unison regardless. The decision had been a no-brainer. Yes, of course meat. It had to be meat. Hot, juicy, unctuous meat, to soak up any of the 11.00% ABV remaining in my system and fuel all of our bodies for a long drive home.

We entered the restaurant and were hit with…that smell…oh my…that smokey goodness…

The interior was basic: simple chairs, simple plank tables, a condiment bar, and an open serving area loaded with steel pans full of steaming meats. We glanced at the chalkboard menu above the drink case. Pork ribs, smoked whole chicken, brisket, pork shoulder, prime rib – How could we choose? My husband stepped forward and posed the appropriate question, “Do you have a special that would allow us to try a little bit of each?” The young women behind the counter lit up. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “But will it be enough for three people? We’re pretty hungry.” he replied. She just smiled and winked and began busily opening lids and dishing out the contents. Minutes later she was pushing three tied up plastic takeout bag towards us, each sack cradling three large styrofoam containers. We paid for our bargain meal and skipped out the door, swinging our suitcases of grub, hot steam and happiness trailing behind us. We settled anxiously into the car, hardly able to buckle our belts before ripping open the bags to get a glimpse of our spoils.

Let me first say that BBQ is not car food. However, I suspect that in almost all circumstances this would become a moot point if you were dishing out onto your flimsy paper plates the meaty glory that we had in front of us. There where whole barbecued young potatoes. Soft and buttery, with crispy skin, you were inclined to pop a whole one right into your mouth. There was an entire container dedicated to cornbread – Two-story cornbread that was soft and sweet and not crumbly. There was another just for the salad: baby romaine leaves drizzled with blue cheese dressing and crumbles. There was homemade barbecue sauce. And there were proteins. Too many to choose from, I had some of each. Sinking my teeth into a hefty and perfectly charred pork rib and pulling apart a smokey chicken wing with my fingers, I stuffed my face and disregarded the juices leaking down my wrists and onto the seats. Who needs a fork (or tidiness) when BBQ is involved anyways. Downing what seemed like multiple platefuls each, we settled into full-belly happiness, and drove into the darkness, Fleetwood Mac drifting through the radio.

Now this is the miraculous part. When we had gotten home, we opened our remaining containers to see how much damage we had done. To our surprise, nothing seemed to have changed. Like the miraculous loaves and fishes, the meat did not diminish as we had thought it would. No. It had multiplied! So we did the only thing that could be done. We devoured the food all over again. And when a friend stopped by to visit the next night, we made him eat as well. And we counted ourselves blessed to have received such a meal from a such a small town.