Thursday, May 28, 2015

The doldrums


 (dōl′drəmz′, dôl′-, dŏl′-)
pl.n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
a. A period of stagnation or slump.
b. A period of depression or unhappy listlessness.
a. A region of the ocean near the equator, characterized by calms, light winds, or squalls.
Yup. That's where I was. The doldrums. A definite state of stagnation and listlessness. A sort of wondering 'what I'm doing with my life?' and 'is this all there is?' place. I felt like enthusiasm, joy and happiness was a foreign language that I didn't understand. 
The thing about the doldrums is that I know when I'm in them but it's just so freaking hard to get out. I imagine myself on a sailing ship stuck in a becalmed ocean. Bored, empty, nothing but ocean for miles and miles. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. No future, nothing positive. Just stuck. The only thing that will move that ship out of the doldrums is for the wind to blow.
Lucky for me (and the people I live with) the doldrums never seem to keep me stuck for too long. This past time was two weeks too long and definitely felt weather-related. Hard to be sunny when it's been nothing but grey, awful and cold for weeks. Especially when it's supposed to be summer.
My wind finally blew in the shape of a long weekend away in Pebble Beach. We didn't necessarily get much sun but incredible (and inspirational meals) were had, moments around the fire pit were enjoyed, adventures and conversations were embarked upon. Note to self, sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what I need to get me going again.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ground Beef and Vegetable Soup - Mmmm Mmmm Good.

Because I wasn't about to give my leftover fluffy dinner rolls to the chickens and because our weather has been winter-like, I knew I needed to make a soup for dinner. I've been experimenting with grinding stew meat into ground beef, so I wanted a soup that cooked long and slow and involved ground beef. I found a recipe for a ground beef vegetable soup on and tweaked it a bit to incorporate to the flavors I prefer and because it seemed a little bland. It got two thumbs up from Derek at the end so I know it's good.
I do think you could through all different kinds of veg into this soup - it would be a good 'use it up' pot of goodness.


1 lb. ground beef
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
15 oz can tomato sauce (I used chopped tomatoes and whirled half for sauce, and kept the other half diced)
8 oz frozen peas
8 oz frozen corn
2 bay leaves
4 thyme springs
1 T dried oregano
1 parmesan cheese rind (what you don't keep yours? Keep them from now on! They give soups a lovely depth of flavor)
4 cups stock (I used turkey because that's what I had)


- Crumble ground beef into a stockpot over medium-high heat; cook and stir until beef is crumbly, evenly browned, and no longer pink, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and discard any excess grease.

- Stir carrots, celery, and onion into the ground beef; cook and stir until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, tomato sauce (and chopped tomatoes if using), peas, corn and rind to the pot; season with salt and black pepper. Stir mixture until evenly mixed. Add thyme, oregano and bay leaf to the pot. Pour stock over everything, cover and simmer for at least an hour.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Seriously Ready in an Hour Dinner Rolls

Fluffy, slathered with butter (oh yeah, I'm supposed to be eating healthy right? Whoops), these were so good, Jacob ate two!
And they really were ready in an hour. Thank you for the recipe!! You made my whim for dinner rolls not a whim at all.

  • 3 3/4 - 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rapid rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cool water
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced into 1 Tbsp pieces, plus more for tops
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer whisk together 4 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt.
  • To a medium bowl add water, milk and butter and heat in microwave on HIGH power until it reaches 115 degrees on a thermometer, about 1 minute 15 seconds. Stir to partially melt butter (you just want to make sure it's softened through).
  • Pour milk mixture into dry mixture in bowl of electric stand mixer along with lemon juice. Set mixer with a hook attachment then set mixer on low speed and gradually increase to medium-low, knead about 3 - 4 minutes until smooth and elastic while adding additional flour as necessary (dough should be lightly sticky but manageable).
  • Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile butter a 13 by 9-inch baking dish.
  • Drop dough onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into an evenly level square, about 9 by 9-inches. Cut into 16 equal portions (don't have to be exact). Shape dough into 15 balls, while using excess dough from the 16th portion to add to smaller rounds as needed, and place shaped dough portions into prepared baking dish.
  • Dampen hands with water and brush tops of dough with the water (just so they don't dry while rising in oven). Transfer to oven, close oven and turn oven off, allow rolls to rise 20 minutes (don't open oven door). Remove from oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees (this should take about 5 minutes, so just allow rolls to rest on counter while oven preheats).
  • Bake in preheated oven 14 - 16 minutes until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and run the top of a stick of butter along tops of rolls just to coat. Serve warm. Store in an airtight container (I recommend rewarming cool rolls in microwave for best results.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The way I used to be...

I regularly receive compliments on my hair. My stylist goes into raptures over how lovely the color  is. People will say "you have the prettiest strawberry blonde hair!'. I say thank you then protest "but you should have seen my hair when..." And, as they look at me with confusion and disbelief, I tell them how my hair used to be "flaming, Irish, really, really red".

Because this is how I used to look (yes that's Derek):

And this is how I look now:
That's quite a difference. That isn't blonde up there on top of my head, it's white. Pure white. The paper white of my Papa's (my grandfather) hair. I used to be a redhead. I mean, I'm still a redhead, but I used to be more of a redhead. It's hard to picture, without a picture. Even with a picture. I miss my hair - it was the defining part of me. It was a very large part of how I was known and how I was recognized. You could always find me in a crowd. Now...I'm...defined in other ways. I'm Jacob's mom. I'm Derek's wife. I'm the Crazy Chicken Lady. Hard to pick those out in a group.
I miss my hair. I could dye it, but honestly it never looks the same and what's the point? Just like my laugh lines and smile crinkles, I earned every one of those white hairs.
Instead I will learn to, somewhat grudgingly, embrace my increasingly white hair. I will love that I inherited it from my grandfather. I will continue to learn to define myself in other ways. Crazy Chicken Lady is a pretty good start. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Have Mercy Chocolate Cake

Ohhhhhhh - cake. Chocolate cake. With thick dreamy frosting. I didn't want much for Mother's Day but I did want an intense, incredible chocolate cake. J is allergic to eggs and, since I actually wanted to share my cake, I needed an egg-free cake worthy of Mother. Yes, I AM a LOTR geek :)

Well if you're looking for a deeeevine egg-free chocolate cake it has to be Wacky Cake. Now I have no idea if the Depression era story behind it is true, but it's a great little tale for an awesome cake.
This cake is only as good as the cocoa that goes into it so don't make it with that Hersheys stuff - go deep dark and intense. I personally love Guittard's cocoa rouge for baking.

The buttercream recipe is from Smitten Kitchen and it's the best buttercream I've ever made. And you make it in the Cuisinart. How did I not know you can make perfect buttercream in the Cuisinart?!

**note - this cake is SO easy to make, it's perfect for little fingers to help with the mixing**

Wacky or 'Have Mercy' Chocolate Cake

1 12 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 heaping  tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 teaspoon  salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon apple cider or white vinegar
5 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup water, cold
1/2 cup chocolate chips (because why not more chocolate?)
- Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt.
- Make three wells in the flour mixture.
- In one put vanilla; in another the vinegar, and in the third the oil.
- Pour 1 c cold water over all and stir till thoroughly combined.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Pour into greased 8 x 8-inch pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees F oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs (not batter).
- Cool on wire rack.
- Frost when cool.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
2 ounces (55 grams) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of fine sea salt (optional)
1 tablespoons cream or whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place frosting ingredients in a food processor and run machine to mix.
- Scrape down bowl then process just until smooth and somewhat fluffed.
- Scoop the frosting onto the cooled chocolate cake and swirl it around.
And now I want chocolate cake - good thing I have some frozen!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How I work out when I have a head cold.

I don't. Seriously. I don't. I have no desire to do anything besides sit on my butt or lie down when I'm not feeling well.

I know there's all the studies that say it's ok to continue to work out unless you lungs are congested. I'm sure there are people who do manage to keep working out when their bodies are sick but their lungs are mercifully clear (in fact I'm married to one). Well hooray for them.

Not me. When I'm sick I want a comfy couch, some sports on TV and a nap. If I am sick enough I want my bed. Today I want a combination of both. I got sick last week and pushed myself. Work, Birthday party Saturday, Giants game Sunday, more work yesterday and today I woke up runny, congested and miserable.

That'll teach me. I should have taken it easier (well except for the Giants game, I mean like I would ever miss that!). I should have taken better care of myself. When you're sick, your body needs a little mothering. A little care. A little hot tea. Maybe a cookie.

I'm off to take a nap - I'm listening to my body and that's what it says it wants. And a big bowl of pasta. Hey, my body has good taste.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I've got the Working Mama Blues

Last week I offered to help a friend with her business because she seemed to need some extra hands on deck. I wasn't doing this out of the pure goodness of my heart, my bank account could use some extra padding as well and this would provide it.

The job I was envisioned would allow me to work from home for 3-4 hours while Jacob was in school. But (there's always a but). This job. It's full time. It's all hours. It could easily be 7 days a week. It's stressful and exhausting and I'm suffering and my boy is suffering and Derek is probably suffering too.

For example, I took J for ice cream and spent 3/4 of the time on the phone while J desperately tried to get my attention. DESPERATELY. And if anyone has had a 5 year old who is feeling neglected and ignored try to get their attention, they can feel my pain. And his.

I can already see us missing fun things with friends because of this job. I can see, in the 4 days I've been working, Jacob is desperately missing his Mama and I'm turning into Mama Bitch Who Can't Pay Attention Because I'm WORKING RIGHT NOW! And I'm not ok with that. I'm really not ok with that. My stress levels are insanely high. Jacob is feeling neglected and I'm pretty sure I've not been very nice to Derek. But I can't quit. Because she's my friend and I am the one who offered to help and I really enjoy it when I'm not inundated and overwhelmed. I'm not sure I can keep up this pace till June 11th which is when I have Jacob home full time. I'd love this job to be what I thought it would be, I really would. I'm not sure how to turn it into that. But I can't neglect my kid, nothing is worth that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This is me. With a tennis racquet.

Getting my tennis on. Please bear in mind I haven't played since I was 16. I assume the next photo will be me with a bag of ice on my arm. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fruit Snack Bars

I'm always looking for replacements for the kidz cliff bars and various granola bars my son adores. I use them as a snack before his after school activities when he's hungry and needs something to eat but nothing so big as to ruin dinner. I found this recipe on The Smitten Kitchen (one of my very, very, favorite recipe blogs) under the title 'Fruit Breakfast Bars'.

I only switched it up by making it with frozen organic blueberries because they were $2.50 at Trader Joes versus $8 frozen organic raspberries at Safeway. I'd say I would use our fresh raspberries when we get some but that would be a lie. I'm not using our fresh berries for anything but eating straight! I also added about 2t corn starch to the blueberries because they were pretty liquid and I was worried they would cook up too runny. When I layered the blueberries on, I left most of the liquid in the bowl.

These are excellent at holding together in a bar form (so many things I make get crumbly) and so far they have frozen very well and then defrosted perfectly for his afternoon snack. They're definitely on the sweet side (even though I cut back the brown sugar by 1/4 cup [accidentally but it worked]) but they probably don't have much more sugar than a store-bought bar. He loves them and we had fun making them together so it's a win-win!

For the crust and crumb:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I accidentally used 3/4)
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the berry filling:
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound berries (blackberries, raspberries or blueberries), fresh or frozen
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Make the crust and crumb: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan (I used my ceramic pan and it was just fine). Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.
Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the butter and pulse until loose crumbs form.
Reserve 1 1/2 cup of the mixture and set aside. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hans or the back of a large wooden spoon to push the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan. The crust should touch the sides of the pan. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool. Keep the oven on while you make the raspberry filling.
Make the raspberry filling: In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour together. Add the berries, lemon juice and butter and use your hands to toss gently until the raspberries are evenly coated.

Assemble and bake the bars: Spread the berry filling evenly on top of the cooled crust. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly on top of the filling.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two days or wrapped and frozen.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The camera doesn't lie, the picture that started it all.....

I realized that I've been a bit foggy regarding why I feel this urgent need to lose 15-20 pounds. Getting in physical shape is obviously a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but why now? I've known I needed to get in shape for years. And put it off. What happened to give me that 'do something, do some thing now!' moment?

It was a picture from our trip to Disneyland in March that let me see how I really looked. What I was seeing in the mirror was not what the world was seeing. The camera does not lie.

To be brutally honest, I loathe this picture of me. I normally would have deleted it and tried to forget it existed (as I have done so many times in the past), but this time was different. This time when I looked at an unflattering picture of myself, I realized I wasn't going to get healthy just by wishing for and ignoring it. And, to be truthful, my weight was only going to get worse and I really needed to do something now, right NOW. I don't want to look at myself and not like what I see. I don't want to only be happy with neck up pictures. I want to be healthy, fit and happy for myself, my family and my future.

Now for the picture. I really hate this picture. A lot. Please don't try and say "oh you look fine". I know I don't and saying I look ok, when I don't, doesn't help. Sometimes we all could use a good harsh dose of reality and this picture was mine. It's motivation and inspiration. It's not a negative body view (such buzz words we use these days), it's real and it's a body needing change. I don't want the wool pulled over my eyes, I don't want people telling me that I look 'fine', I know I don't. That's what we do for each other out of camaraderie and friendship. What I really want is encouragement, support and to realize that I can do this. This is extremely important to me and I'm going to make it happen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

This is what's in my bathtub - carefully swaddled lest it get a chill.

Pasta with Green Puttanesca Sauce

When we were back in Boston for Passover, my aunt Juli commented, as we were serving up olives for Passover dinner (it's supposed to symbolize peace in the Middle East) that the olives reminded her of a green puttanesca sauce she'd made. She sent me the recipe and OH WOW! Delicious! Outstanding. So super simple and easy, the sauce can literally be made while you're boiling the pasta.
It would definitely be good with a meat added (maybe Italian sausage or salami) but we liked it just as is. The breadcrumbs were my addition, because everything tastes better with breadcrumbs.

recipe originally posted in the NY Times

Pasta with Green Puttanesca Sauce

1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
10 anchovy fillets (I used a squeeze from a tube of anchovy puree as I find it easier to keep on hand)
1/4 cup drained capers
1 cup pitted and sliced Cerignola or Picholine olives
6-8 garlic cloves (the original recipe called for green garlic but I like the simplicity of regular garlic)
1/3 cup chopped scallions, white and light green parts
pinch red pepper flakes
12 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
toasted breadcrumbs

Cook the pasta till al dente. Drain but keep some pasta water in case you need it later.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the anchovies and capers and cook, stirring, till the capers start turning brown. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, olives, scallions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is golden, about 3-5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the pasta and toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Add pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Remove from heat, add the basil and breadcrumbs and serve.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why I love my chickens....

Stop! Put the chocolate down and back away slowly....

Look, I've read all the same articles you have and done all the same research. It really boils down to a very simple equation - burn more calories than you take in - very simple math. But if it was always that simple or easy we wouldn't have the issues with weight in this country that we do.

So, knowing what I know about the simple caloric equation, how am I going to accomplish my goal of losing 15 pounds and keeping it off? Because caloric intake is where the keeping it off part is really going to come into play. I could work out 8 hours a day (note: I really couldn't) but if I'm taking in too many calories it won't make a darn bit of difference. I'm also not going to starve myself in order to lose the weight, that's not healthy nor is it a long-term solution. Plus I really do love food - the enjoyment of a meal is a great joy in my life. But I need a strategy going forward that will allow me to lose weight, keep it off and still partake of awesome deliciousness.

1) The beginning of any good plan starts with the fundamentals and with this one it's eating well-balanced, healthy meals that aren't full of processed junk, added sugars and additives. This I pretty much have down - we eat like this most days so I feel comfortable with this part of my life.

2) So, I'm eating healthy meals but now I need to cut out around 200 calories a day to lose at least pound and a half a month (the math is that 3500 calories equals one pound). To hit that goal, I really need to cut back on the snacking. If I stopped nibbling between meals, that would probably be my 200 calories right there. I eat when I'm stressed, bored, hungry....pretty much it's a comfort thing. I need to find something else to do or I need to eat a piece of fruit. I'm going to experiment with the old 'drink a glass of water if you're hungry' and see if it works. Hey I read about it on Yahoo so it must be true. It would probably also help if I didn't have quite as many snacks available....I need to work on that. I must also have the stomach of a preschooler because when 10:30 hits, I'm ready for snack time and I'm actually hungry. Pistachios and raisins are going to be my go to snack (note, add pistachios to the grocery list). It used to be almonds but since they're now persona non grata in these parts, pistachios will have to do.

4) And then....vino is SO keeno BUT I lost 6 pounds like 'that' (imagine snapping fingers) last year when I cut it out due to some hot flashes that decided to hit way too early for my liking. Taking a sip of wine made my ankles sweat. Seriously. Not much fun so I cut it completely out for several months and lost weight without changing anything else. Then I decided to see if I could drink again and, well, I could, so I gained back everything I had lost. I'm not giving up wine but I'm cutting it back to a glass or two a week.

5) I have a gorgeous cousin who lost her baby weight over time by only eating till she was 80% full. I've tried this and it's way harder than it sounds. My mouth just wants more of whatever delicious thing it's eating and next thing I know, I'm stuffed. Consciously thinking about what I'm eating and how my body is feeling - this is a huge part of what I want to improve.

6) What's left, is my weakness, my downfall, my Achilles heel if you will. That damn leftover Easter chocolate (or any sweet treats). Mmmmm. Dark chocolate eggs stuffed with chocolate raspberry ganache. Have mercy. Mama ate most of those goodies and they were good. Really good. And I had at least one every day. Just couldn't stop myself, I mean if I was eating them then that saved Jacob the sugar right? I ate the last one yesterday and now I'm going cold turkey because cool turkey doesn't work for me. It's all or nothing. I've done this many times (sadly) so I know what I need to do. It's insidious that desire for something sweet, it sneaks in when I'm stressed (or bored) and next thing I know I'm stealing my son's candy and hanging my head in shame. I won't cut out chocolate completely because a life without chocolate is a like life without sunshine but I will keep myself to one small intense square from an amazing chocolate purveyor (my current favorite is Dandelion Chocolate).

These are all things that I can do or change easily (well except for the sweets craving, that one is a bitch) and if I'm successful I will well be on my way. This is not a 'diet' per se, it's an integrated lifestyle change. One I have had various levels of success with in the past but since I'm not getting any younger and because weight is so much harder to lose as we grow older and because I'd like to be in a healthy and physically fit way before I turn 50...I'm going to make this stick this time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's been a while....

It has been churning over in my mind that there is quite a correlation between keeping fit, eating healthy, losing weight and fiscal responsibility and health.

These (along with some motherhood patience issues) are two parts of my life that I'm going to work extremely hard at this upcoming year and beyond. I want my physical and fiscal health to become a fundamental part of who I am. So ingrained in my daily life that I can barely remember a day when being fit, active and responsible wasn't my normal way of life.

The inspiration for the physical side of things came from (cough) several rather unflattering photos that have been taken over a series of vacations. Let's see, there was the one at Disneyland of me sharing a pineapple whip with Jacob and looking like a...well an extremely large pineapple myself. Then the videos and pictures of me in Boston. Ugh. Let's just say I have no desire to continue to resemble this bloated and blimpy version of my former self. I'm 46 and need to lose 15-20 pounds to really feel like myself again. I give myself a year. And then I am keeping it off.

The fiscal side of things came rather suddenly. An income stream that we had been counting on rather suddenly went away. Resulting in the proverbial belt tightening in the financial sense. In reality, it was a wake up call and a reminder to appreciate what we do have (and it's so very much) and a large, LARGE, call to get back to the simple things. And enjoy them. I can feel the waves of concern coming from my mom. Don't worry mom. We are fine. This was a wake up call to jump off the consumer merry go round.

I have had a book on my kindle for months called 'Simplicity Parenting'. Oh the irony in having a book like that sitting gathering the proverbial dust and not having the desire or time to read it. I'm making the time now. And I think Jacob will thrive. As will we all.