Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bookends


I had my practical final exam in culinary class last night. We randomly drew recipes out of a hat from the list of things we’ve made this semester. I picked minestrone, which is what we made on our first night of cooking. It was the recipe that made me want to pull my hair out and go to the bathroom and just never come back. It is one of the easiest recipes we’ve made all semester, and when I picked it, I immediately felt disappointed that I hadn’t drawn something more difficult to really test my skills. But, I decided that it was the Universe giving me a gift. It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks, and I’m feeling worn out. I could use that gift.

I also love the way it brought me back to the first night, remembering how stressful everything was back then and feeling proud of all that I have learned and how much more confident I am.

As I drove to campus last night, I thought about the first night of class and how scared I was to even show up. I was nervous for the exam, but not nearly as nervous as I was that first night. I wore my pink and red striped socks - the same ones I wore on our first night of cooking. I showed up extra early, set up my station, honed my knives.

I’m always looking for bookends as a way to be reflective about changes over time and this was the perfect way to end class.

AND, I received a perfect score for taste, texture and presentation with a note about how nice my knife skills are! My chef described my dish as perfect and beautiful! He did suggest more salt, though, and even though I salted much more than I would at home, this is still something I need to work on. Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my results.

Bookended!

Next week, Asian Cuisine starts. A new class, a new chef and a new challenge. I can’t wait!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mediterranean Pepper and Spinach Salad

Friends of ours recently had a baby. We are not really baby people, and of course we want to help out so we're sticking with what we know. We can offer dog sitting and lots of food! Not really knowing what to cook for new parents, I googled and found that I should send over complete meals, preferably consisting of comfort food, that can be eaten right away or reheated easily. I made the Pioneer Woman's baked ziti, this pepper and spinach salad and a lemon yogurt blueberry cake.

I wanted a salad that wouldn't get soggy if they didn't want to eat it right away, but I also didn't want them to have to go the trouble of dressing and tossing it. So this salad is perfect because the peppers are dressed and continue to marinate and soak up the great flavors. When you're ready to serve you just throw it on top of a bed of spinach. You could also eat this plain without any greens. You can add feta cheese or cherry tomatoes too if you want. (My meal was already pretty cheesy so I skipped the feta, but cheese always makes everything better so you should seriously consider it!)




Mediterranean Pepper and Spinach Salad
Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 a red onion
4 bell peppers, your choice of colors (I used what we had left from the garden + a green, yellow and red pepper)
1 English cucumber, peeled
1/2 cup pitted kalmata olives
1/4 cup olive oil
Baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice red onion into 1/4" pieces. Mix red wine vinegar, water, salt and sugar in small bowl. Whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved. Add red onion and set aside.

Core and seed bell peppers. Cut into 1/2" pieces. Cut cucumber into 1/2" pieces. Slice olives in half. Put cut peppers, cucumber and olives in large bowl. Drain onions, reserving liquid, and add to the bowl. Pour a quarter cup of the vinegar mixture over the vegetables in the large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste (the vinegar mixture is already salty so taste before you season.) Lightly toss. Let flavors meld together for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Before serving, let the pepper mixture come to room temperature. Serve over baby spinach.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Square Foot Gardening 2013: Lessons Learned


This is our third year of gardening with the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method, and while I still consider myself very much the novice gardener, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Our summer 2013 garden is all but wrapped up. We still have some carrots left to make carrot cake and carrot raviolis, but everything else has sucummed to frost.

As we wind down, here are some lessons from the past three years. Again, I'm no expert, but for what it's worth, here is what has helped us.

Cover your boxes at the end of your growing season and keep them covered until you want to grow again. There are a few reasons for this, which I hadn’t realized after our first summer of growing. First of all, those pesky neighborhood cats love our boxes, and without daily watering, they found their way back. Gross! It’s also very windy in New Mexico, and all that wind means that your soil may blow away as it gets really dry over the winter. The wind also blows in weed seeds, which will be an unwelcome guest in the spring when they try to overtake your garden. It’s extra work, but I think it is worth it to keep your garden functioning well during the growing season.


We bought sheets of plywood at the hardware store and cut them to fit the boxes. We screwed them onto the boxes on the corners. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to keep out cats and other creatures and whatever the wind is whipping into your yard. You’ll have to unscrew all of the metal eyelet screws first. You can save the sheets of plywood and re-use them from year to year.

In the spring, uncover your boxes a couple of weeks early. Some weed seeds will blow into your boxes in the fall before you cover them. By uncovering the boxes a couple of weeks before you plant and starting to water, it is easier to pull the weeds because you won’t mistake them for anything you’ve planted intentionally. Weeds are really only an issue for the boxes I built the first year because I didn’t anticipate this problem and didn’t cover them up right away in the fall.

Keep track of your garden plan each year and save your notes. It’s easy to think that I’ll remember what kind of tomatoes grew well from one year to the next, but winter is full of distractions and by the time spring rolls around, I’ve lost track. I draw out grids for each of my boxes and label what I’m planting, the planting date and the number of plants per square foot. I also make notes about the type of seed or where I bought the plant start. At the end of the season, pull back our your plan and jot down notes about what grew well and what was a dud.

Consider the configurations of your boxes. Generally, when I see SFG boxes, they are 4’x4’ boxes. Last year we built one box that is 2’x8.' I prefer this shape over the 4’x4’ boxes. It’s easier to access all of the plants (it can be a bit of a reach for me to tend to the plants in the middle squares of the 4’x4’ boxes), and I also like that I can grow eight climbing plants rather than just four.

Decide if it's worth it. This is a big investment in terms of time and money. Buying all of the supplies, mixing the soil and building the boxes is a big commitment, and I think it’s only worth it if you continue to garden year after year. Although it seems like growing your own vegetables should save you money, the truth is that the garden costs us more than we save. That will even out as the years go by, but for now we are at a loss. I enjoy planning, planting and harvesting. Watering and tending to the plants is less fun for me, but I do enjoy the whole process so it is worth it. I also love, love, love cooking meals with vegetables from our own garden. You’ll need to decide if it is worth it for you.


There will be good years and there will be bad years, and it will even out. This has been my motto with annual ski passes, and it's also true with gardening. This year we had a big hail storm in July that tore apart my basil and peppers and knocked almost all of my tomatoes onto the ground. The tomatoes that held on were bruised with tough skin. The tomatoes have been the hit of the garden in past years, but they were barely edible this year. This isn’t a hobby or investment you want to pursue for only one year. Plan on the long haul!

Start small and stay small for a while. The first year I started with 36 square feet, and the second year I added another 32 square feet. I should have asked myself if I really need an additional 32 square feet. After such a successful first year, I got caught up in the excitement of adding more boxes, and I wasn’t very reflective about whether or not we really needed more boxes. In hindsight, considering the amount of work and expense to build additional boxes and the added time and energy to plan, plant and water them, I don’t think I would build them again if I could do it over. I would have stuck with my original 32 square feet and cut out most of the flowers I grew the first year.

And a note about flowers, growing cosmos and zinnias is easy, but they deposit a lot of seeds in your boxes. If you plant them, be prepared to weed them out the following year(s).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Camino Has Begun

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I wrote a guest post on a blog I really admire and love reading: PGS - The Way. Bill Bennet writes about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which he walked for the first time this spring. He’ll be walking again next spring on the Portuguese route and leading a group of Pilgrims. He also takes beautiful photographs. When he asked for guest posts, I knew I wanted to submit something. It felt like a good way to wade into the waters of being more vulnerable and sharing my story wholeheartedly.

If you have time, you can read it here. This was scary to put out there.

Although I have yet to put my boot to the ground on my Camino, my journey has begun. In the few short months since that experience in May, I feel like I’ve started rolling forward with great positive energy and momentum. I don’t need an external event to make a change because I’m taking my own control and making my own choices, and that feels pretty awesome!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Singing Hearts

Sometimes I realize that there’s a disconnect between how I think I am or what I think I like or feel motivated by and what is actually the truth.

I think I don’t like change. I’ve always said that I hate it. When I really pay attention, though, I know that I crave change and I thrive when I learn and try new things.

I thought I didn’t like the outdoors. I’m a city girl. Then I moved to New Mexico and discovered that being outside in the nature is one of my greatest joys. I learned that a day spent in a canyon or on top of a mountain or floating down a river makes me much happier than spending time in a city.

When I was studying abroad, we were all encouraged to work at internships and volunteer jobs. I worked at the French American Center, where, as you can imagine, I mostly chatted in English with my co-workers. The work we were tasked with was pretty meaningless, but we did get to plan fun parties. My other job was volunteering as an English tutor at the Secours Catholique. I dreaded going to that job. It was on the other side of the tracks (literally) and a far walk from home and I got home late in the dark. I always had lots of reasons why I didn’t want to go, but I made myself go twice a week. The thing about that job, though, is that it gave me unbelievable energy and satisfaction. I worked with lots of different kids depending on who needed help that night. They were so excited to see me and work with me, and the lady who ran the center was always appreciative for my help. For as much as I dreaded going, I always left with a spring in my step, a huge smile on my face and electricity shooting through my body. The satisfaction of teaching someone something and helping them really understand it is so fulfilling. I’d leave there and walk home a happy lady. If I had listened to myself at the time, I probably would have pursued teaching.

I had the chance again a few years later when I was working in France as an English teacher in elementary schools. I loved teaching, but something in my head, that rational, pragmatic voice, told me to pursue a career in planning instead. If I had listened to my heart, I would be an elementary school teacher, and I’d probably have lots of frustrations with that as well, but I think it would make me happy.

The point of all this is to listen to the things that make your heart sing. The big things and the little things that give us joy and excitement and energy. The little things, most importantly, because they add up to great joy. I’m committing to paying attention, finding those things that give me energy and pleasure and consciously pursuing them.

Fun Photo Booth Photos? Yes, please!!
Here’s just a few of the things on my list:

Cuddling and playing with Elsa
Exercising, sweating, losing my breath and drinking lots of cold water
Being outside in fresh air
Hiking to the top of a mountain
Watching the sunrise
Genuinely thanking someone for kind actions
Trying a new recipe, making food for friends and family
Sitting in the hot springs on the Chama, preferably with cold rain drops on my back
Skiing a new or difficult run
Being by the sea and being in the salt water
Katy Perry dance parties in the kitchen
Laughing really hard

What are some of the things on your list?

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Morning After: Montana Mimosas

Our friend Chuck, who used to live in Montana, made these drinks for everyone the morning after our wedding. The ranch manager blasted the siren to feed the cows pretty early so everyone who stayed with us at the ranch was up and about… and a little hungover.

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Montana Mimosas
 
No problem, Chuck to the rescue with Montana Mimosas. It’s simple: beer + orange juice = hangover cure AND a tasty morning beverage. Seriously, they are good!

We used Tecates, but I think you can use any light beer. Apparently, these aren’t as widely known or popular in other parts of the country. My cousin in Washington, D.C. made these at a cocktail party and they were a real novelty.

Montana Mimosas

8 ounces light beer
8 ounces orange juice
(Obviously this recipe is not very exacting so adjust the proportions to your taste.)

Mix and serve.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reminiscing. Grateful.

Every year as we celebrate our anniversary, I’m flooded with excitement, love, happiness. I lurve reminiscing. It sometimes drives Andrew crazy. (see a typical conversation:

M: hey, remember what I was wearing the first time we went bowling together?

A: Ummmm, is this a test?

M: No, but remember I had that cute white shirt with the art nouveau scene and you wore your blue shirt from the Gap and you had that mustache and I made you so nervous hugging you during group photos…

A: I don’t like it when you quiz me about details like this.

M: And I was wearing those cute dangly earrings and those jeans you liked so much and …)

Anyway, while reliving all of the early days of our relationship in detail, especially about the outfits, isn’t exactly Andrew’s cup of tea, the wedding is something that he does love to join in with me on reminiscing about. I love to remember all of the little details and interactions and the feelings, oh.my.god the FEELINGS!

I also love to reminisce about all of the great times we spent with friends and family that weekend. We had so much fun and laughed a lot. Even without pictures, I would never forget scenes like these.

 
And then my heart swells with gratitude and tears of joy fill my eyes because we felt so loved and cared for. There is so much that goes into a wedding, even a small one, and people went way out of their way to help us and support us. They cooked, they ran errands, they set up and took down, they packaged leftovers (I’m looking at you, Miss Responsible!), they made our bouquets and arranged our flowers, played the music, took pictures, moved tables and chairs and they even did a fair amount of cleaning. I mean, I kid you not, I found my best friend on her hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor right before our welcome dinner because she wanted to make sure everything was perfect - now that’s a good friend.

I know this is what happens at weddings, but I wasn’t really prepared for how overwhelming (in good way) it would be even now four years later. It is a huge thing that I will always treasure about that day. It felt like all of these wonderful people who we love wrapped us up in a big hug and helped us get married. Feeling all of that love is when I realized that the wedding was about more than just Andrew and I getting married. It took on a life of its own and became something much bigger.

When I was living abroad, I would fantasize about having all of the people I love in the same place. In my fantasy, this usually involved one of them surprising me on the street and then the rest of them popping out from behind a wall to yell “SURPRISE!” and me melting into a puddle of tears. Having our wedding was a dream come true in that respect except it was better than the fantasy. We gathered all of the people we love the most from far and wide and they spent an amazing weekend with us in a place we love creating a community of love and support that will carry us through our lives together.

I think for both of us one of our favorite parts of celebrating our anniversary is remembering that.

Four Years: The Magic of Marriage


Andrew and I are celebrating our nine year anniversary this week. We’ve been married for four of these years, and it has been magic. I don’t say magical to imply that it hasn’t been hard and overwhelming at times because it has. What people say about marriage being hard work is true, but it’s hard work that is so worth it.

There is magic in marriage.

It’s in the safety of knowing you have a strong commitment and the freedom that safety allows you to explore ideas, think out loud and try new things. Being in this thing together.

The support and encouragement of your partner who thinks you are the smartest, most talented, loveliest person ever.

The deep love and attachment. The passion. Loving each other so fiercely. Being the most important person. Being in the most important thing.

The comfort of being totally yourself, totally naked (figuratively, although literally too). Talking in funny voices. Dancing around the kitchen. Pouring your heart out. Telling the most secret secrets. Being vulnerable. Being the most honest I’ve ever been.

It’s in dealing with the hard stuff. You deal with it now or you let it fester and deal with it down the road, but you WILL deal with it because, it’s going nowhere. And dealing with it is hard, but having dealt with it feels good. It’s worth it because every fight, every discussion, every compromise gets us closer to where we need to be. Fights feel productive in marriage. They lead us somewhere.

The family we’ve created. The family we are.

The enormity and power of this team, this partnership, this council between equals.

And even after almost a decade together, there is still the magic of surprise and discovery.

I’m looking forward to another amazing year full adventures and big things!

Happy Anniversary. xoxo, sweetie

hey, I love you!
so much

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Weekend Comfort Food: Eggs Benedict


It's only Wednesday, but if you're anything like me, you're already thinking about and planning for what you will be eating this weekend.

A few weeks ago, feeling emboldened from our experiments with pasta making, I declared that I wanted to make Eggs Benedict as our next food challenge. According to Julia, all good cooks should know how to work with egg yolks under any condition, and I knew that Hollandaise needed to be part of my repertoire. If nothing else so we can enjoy my favorite breakfast food - Eggs Benedict - whenever we want to. Santa Fe does not have any good Bennies that I’ve found so I knew we needed to take matters into our own hands.

Now, let me tell you how it’s done (picture me as the Ham in The Sandlot explaining to Smalls how s’mores are made…)


First you take the muffin. You stick your fixins on the muffin. Then you poach the egg. When the egg is perfectly poached, you stick it on the fixins. Then you cover it with Hollandaise sauce. THEN, you scarf!

The traditional Benny has ham, but I wanted a vegetarian Benny so I used roasted fennel, sauteed mushrooms and wilted arugula - mostly because those are veggies I already had on hand. Poaching the eggs can be tricky, and I hate an overcooked yolk. Check out Smitten Kitchen’s advice on a perfectly poached egg. We have had pretty good luck with this method. And, you all know the story of the sauce - ridiculously finicky and ridiculously delicious. Aaaaaand, just to make it more of a challenge, I made my own English Muffins.


Honestly, after having the homemade ones, I barely want to touch store-bought muffs. These are so tasty and flavorful. I wasn’t able to produce the nooks and crannies that we all know and love, but nonetheless, these are winners. I used Ruth Reichl’s recipe found via Smitten Kitchen. She warns about the dough being too wet so I purchased small metal rings just in case, but I didn’t have this problem at all. I do notice that Deb didn’t mix it for five minutes like the recipe calls for and she added all the flour at once. I don’t know anything about baking so I don’t know if this could have made the difference, but my recommendation is to stick to the recipe! If your dough does turn our runny, which mine didn’t at all, see the link for Deb’s instructions for using the metal rings.

English Muffins
From Ruth Reichl via Smitten Kitchen, slightly adapted to omit the metal rings and Alton Brown’s method

⅓ cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons butter + more for cooking
1 ⅔ cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar
5 cups flour
Cornmeal

Mix warm water with sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in milk. When cool, add to yeast mixture along with egg, salt, and white vinegar. Add 2 1/2 cups flour and mix, at medium speed, 5 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups more flour and mix well. Cover and let rise 1 hour.

Preheat a griddle to 300 degrees F. (This makes no sense to me as our griddle is cast iron and sits on the stovetop to be heated… I used our biggest cast iron pan with a cover.)

Use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop dough and form into disks about a 1/2 inch thick. (I recommend sticking to this size to begin with. I made my first ones way too big and they took forever to cook through.) Dredge in cornmeal. Place in the buttered cast iron pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, covered. Flip muffins and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack.

Slice, serve, scarf!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Showing Up, PURSUING and Learning New Things


Push outside your comfort zone.
Be curious.
Dream big.
See new things, eat new things, learn new things.
Pursue.

This is my mantra lately, and PURSUE is my word. When I look back on my reflections in January about the kind of year I wanted to have, I wrote about wanting to be proactive and have a year of choices rather than circumstances. The word PURSUE is not in there, but its spirit is. PURSUE has been running through my mind all summer and now feels deeply rooted this fall.

All this thought about pursuing has also had me focused on learning new things. I’ve had this post as a draft in my Google docs for a couple of months. I knew I wanted to write about learning new things, the energy it gives me and what a profound impact it can have on other parts of my life, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say or how to say it. I knew something was there swirling around, and I think I’m ready to start capturing it here.

I signed up for Mondo Beyondo this fall. I’ve been wanting to take this class for a couple of years. Why haven’t I signed up yet? I was scared. A class about dreaming big was too terrifying for me to take because what if I dream big, I put my dreams out there and I fail? There is so much vulnerability in putting it out there and in trusting yourself and the Universe to make it happen. I saw an email about a discount to sign up for class (I love a good deal!), and I decided to give myself the class for my birthday this year. It has been a wonderful decision.

Suddenly, having signed up for a class for dreamers, I thought I better not show up empty handed and unprepared. I better get myself into gear, I thought. I better start doing some dreaming and pursuing before class starts so I can get the most out of it and push myself farther than I can on my own. So, I stopped putting off signing up for culinary classes. I had called before about registering, and no one ever called me back. I thought it was a sign. I already had too much going on in my life. Do I really need to take on more?

After I signed up for Mondo Beyondo though, something shifted. Just the leap of registering for Mondo Beyondo made me feel more bold and so I contacted the school again and met with the program director and bought myself a chef’s coat and a knife kit and started a prep manual for recipes. I showed up, as terrified as I was, and I’m pursuing this dream. I don’t know where it will lead or what the outcome will be. In Mondo Beyond speak, that’s part of what I’m surrendering to the Universe. I’m doing what I can to pursue, and I’m trusting that some things are out of my control and I can’t do everything alone. I’m trusting my heart, myself and that I know what to do. I’m choosing to believe that I can try something new. I’m daring to say it out loud. I’m PURSUING. I’m learning something new.

Learning new things is a leap of faith - faith in myself and my capabilities. Faith that even if I fail, I will learn something valuable. It is scary and terrifying and overwhelming, and at some points, it makes me think “What was I thinking??” Why did I think this would be a good idea? It sure would have been a lot easier to just stay home and keep going about my life.

Although learning new things conjures up all sorts of fear in me, my fear of regretting not trying is greater. When I was a little girl, I took swim lessons. Even after years of swim lessons, I am still very anxious and uncomfortable in water over my head. Every week, at the end of class, we had the chance to jump off the diving board. Our teacher was in the water below to catch us or help us if we needed it. Every week, I’d tell my mom, “I’m going to do it next week.” I really wanted to jump off that diving board. Everyone else in class did it, but I just couldn’t make myself take the leap. A couple of times, I even walked to the end of the diving board and looked down at the water. I always turned around though, and said, “I’ll do it next week.” As an adult, I don’t want to put off to next week something that I want to do. I don’t want to have the regret of not pursuing something that I know deep down I want to do.

There is a lot of power in learning new things and pursuing. I know this is true because each morning after class, I feel energy surging through my body. I’m physically exhausted from the busy schedule, but I feel more alive and excited. I have more energy. I can feel my emotions so closely beneath the surface as though pursuing something so exciting is allowing me to let go of past regrets or doubts. I feel more adventurous. I dream bigger and have more confidence that my dreams will come true.

When I was in graduate school, I signed up for acting classes. I love, love, love acting. I loved performing and pushing myself so far outside my comfort zone. I loved it after I did it. Before every class, I’d practically make myself sick with fear. Looking back on that experience, I think of how brave I was. I even auditioned and was cast in a local play. I mean who was that girl? It makes me feel so much braver looking forward.

Learning new things creates momentum and forward motion. It creates positive energy that starts rolling forward and growing courage in other parts of my life. In more Mondo Beyondo vocabulary, it helps me flex my courage muscles. As someone who likes to be good at things, daring to try something I don’t know how to do gives me the confidence and courageousness to pursue even bigger things. Having started with no skills and now being confident skiing through the trees is an accomplishment I couldn’t even envision four years ago. I worked hard, I showed up and practiced wholeheartedly, I got up when I fell, I pursued and I accomplished what I set out to do. Knowing that gives me great trust in myself, my capabilities and my intuition.

The other night in class, unable to let go of so much control and ever the perfectionist, I was asking my instructor for some more pointers and tips. He told me not to worry, that I already know this stuff. And I said to him, a little exasperated, “But I want to do well. I want to get an A!” And he laughed and said, “you’re talented,” and (this part I heard) “you just need to trust yourself.”
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