A New Day

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Hello?

This space must feel awfully lonely and neglected.  It’s been nine months since I was last here.  Nine very busy months.  And no – not because I was gestating life, although it does bear some resemblance to such a life-altering time span when you think about it.

No.  For the last year (or more) I’ve been falling and stumbling and careening into what I can now say is the thing I’ve been meant to do my whole life.  And it’s only taken me 40 years to figure it out.

A few years ago (almost three, now, actually) I took a part-time job with a local charter school.  20 hours a week as an administrative assistant – making copies, answering phones, running errands, backing up the receptionist, et cetera.  I was somewhat over-qualified for the job, but that was okay because I didn’t really want anything too challenging.  I needed something to do a few hours a week, and this happened to be three miles from my house, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

At the time I didn’t realize how life-changing that little part-time job would be.

If you’re at all familiar with the charter school movement, then you probably know that making them successful and sustainable can be a daunting task.  When I started, this little school had 400 students (and was in its 7th year of operation). By my second year, and the school’s 8th, we had 700 students.  To almost double in size in one year is challenging.  It was clear that my part-time position was no longer going to suffice, so I went full-time last year.

At the same time, my husband and I decided that we would enroll our oldest in the school.  Its unique blend of academic instruction and character education appealed to us, and the convenience of having the kids where I worked was equally appealing.

I didn’t really understand it at the time, but something changes when your kid’s education is on the line.  You go from being merely an employee of an institution to being fully invested in its success.  It’s scary.  And exciting.  And exhausting.

What’s crazy is I always knew I wanted to work in education, but I also knew that I didn’t have what it took to be a classroom teacher.  It takes a special breed to work directly with kids all day every day, and I’m just not cut out for it.  More power to those that do – I’m grateful for them every day.

No, my calling is much more behind the scenes – building support for the school in the community.  Charter schools are a controversial, hot button topic, and there are people out there that wish they would just go away.  And I’m sure there are some that should, whether because those schools are financially unsound, poorly governed, or poorly conceived.  This school, though, is none of those things.  And I’m proud to be a part of it.

In fact, I’ve never felt so called to something in my life – outside of motherhood.  There are paths we take in life that, at the time, seem completely random, but for some reason we’re compelled to take them anyway.  I never thought, when I responded to a Craigslist ad for a part-time admin assistant (yes, I actually responded to a job posting on Craigslist), that I would be starting down a life altering, career changing rabbit hole.

This  new school year has been exhausting.  I’m managing people for the first time in five years, which comes with its own set of challenges (especially when you’re an introvert and just the thought of human interaction sometimes is more than you can handle).  The good news is, they’re all good at what they do, and I respect each one of them for the strengths they bring to their roles.  I’m also becoming much more involved on the institutional advancement side of things – fundraising, capacity building, community engagement, etc. Each day brings with it new learning opportunities, new successes (and sometimes new failures).

There are days when I’m just not sure that I can keep going – like there’s just too much to do and I don’t know where to begin.

In my old life I might have quietly turned away and moved on.

But the promise of what this school can be, what it can do for my own children as well as the hundreds of others that come through the doors every day, keeps me coming back.  And that makes it all worthwhile.

Each new day is a promise of something great.  I’m just where I need to be.  Life is good.  

Student | Teacher | Cook: {Viking Cooking School and Fried Chicken}

On Saturday morning, I was a student.

I had been invited by the General Manager of our local Viking store to come take a complimentary class and write about it.  I chose Saturday’s class from their menu of choices for one reason and one reason only: fried chicken.

The title of the class was Southern Specialties from the Hit Movie The Help.  The class included instruction in making macaroni and cheese, slow-cooked greens, biscuits, cornbread and fried chicken.

Fried Chicken.

My dark, closeted secret: I’m a southern girl who can’t fry chicken. I’m surprised I found a husband.

I knew this would be the ultimate test of a cooking school and its Chef Instructor.  If they could teach me to successfully fry chicken, it would be a miracle.

To be fair, it wasn’t just about the chicken.  I mean, I’ve made my fair share of macaroni and cheese, greens and biscuits and cornbread, so these things weren’t really new to me. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn a thing or two, though.

For instance – to add flavor to your cooked pasta, add whole garlic cloves to the pasta water.  Simple, but I probably would never have thought to do something like that.  Chef said that sometimes he adds other herbs and spices too – whatever tickles your fancy.  Genius.

These classes are for cooks of all skill levels.  We began with some basic knife skills, learning the proper way to hold a knife and how to mince garlic and properly dice an onion. We learned how to strip greens from their stems and clean them in a sink-full of water.  We learned how to make the lightest, fluffiest drop-style biscuits I’ve ever had.

I still prefer a rolled biscuit, because that’s what I grew up with, but these were really remarkable.

And the chicken.  That ever-elusive Sunday dinner staple.  That’s what I went to conquer.

The chicken had marinated overnight in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Chef had members of the class put together a mixture of all-purpose flour, baking powder, cornstarch, salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika.  Then we each took a turn dredging the marinated chicken in the flour mixture.  The key, he said, to crispy fried chicken was to allow the chicken to rest after the flour dredge, and making sure that the oil is the right temperature.

We pan-fried the chicken in a cast-iron skillet using vegetable shortening. I was admittedly not thrilled about using hydrogenated vegetable shortening, but as Chef said, this isn’t exactly health food.  We didn’t use a deep-fry thermometer, relying solely on Chef’s knowledge of “what the bubbles should look like” to tell us whether the oil was at the right temperature.  I got a pretty good feel for what we were looking for – small, relatively fast moving bubbles concentrated around the outside of the chicken pieces.  If they slowed down, or became too small, the oil was too cool – if they got bigger and faster, it was too hot.  The key is to not cook it too fast – you don’t want the outside to get brown before the inside is done. Too slow, though, and you end up with a greasy mess.

After watching and participating in three batches of fried chicken, I felt pretty good about what I’d learned.

I tell you what – food that you’ve had a hand in making tastes pretty darn good.  And food that’s part of a group effort?  Tastes even better.  When we saw the feast that we’d prepared, the five of us and Chef, we were pretty proud.

And when we bellied up to the bar to enjoy the fruits of our labor?  Silence.  Not a sound save that of forks and knives on plates.  And the occasional satisfied “hmm…”  This was good food.  And the chicken?  Some of the best I’ve had.  This is the kind of food you want to share with people, even a group of strangers.  We were wives, mothers, husbands, friends.  Most of us were from the south, but one of us hailed from New York.  Some of us cooked regularly for our families, others rarely set foot in the kitchen.  But we all were there to learn.  And we all looked forward to sharing what we learned with friends and family.

I headed home satisfied.  I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some buttermilk and chicken.  I was going to fry up a mess of chicken for Sunday dinner the next day, come hell or high water.

__________________________________________

On Sunday morning, as I stood in my kitchen, I was a teacher.

My six-year-old son stood next to me on a stepstool, carefully pouring pre-measured ingredients into a mixing bowl.  We were making pancakes.

He had requested them for breakfast the minute I stumbled out of bed, and in a sleep-induced moment of parental neglect, I shot back “are you going to make them?”

Mother of the year, right here.

He looked at me and replied, “but I don’t know how.”

A few minutes later, after I’d had a moment to collect myself (and had fortified myself with some strong black coffee), I asked him if he’d like to help me make the pancakes.  His face lit up like a candle, and he rushed to the kitchen to get started.  He was impatient as I gathered ingredients – flour, oats, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, vanilla from the pantry; sour cream, milk, eggs from the fridge.  By the time I had everything laid out on the counter, measuring tools included, he was practically jumping out of his skin.  I carefully measured each ingredient, handing the cups and spoons over to him so that he could put everything in the mixing bowl.  I then let him whisk it all together.  It was a messy process, but he was so proud of his accomplishment.

He asked if he could help me ladle the pancakes onto the griddle, but when he felt the heat radiating from the surface of the appliance, he became reticent.  He stood back and watched as I measured them out into neat little rounds, and again as I flipped the first batch.  After that he was off to conquer imaginary bad guys, quickly moving on to the next thing on his to-do list for the day.  I was left to finish the pancakes on my own.

Even though it was the same pancake recipe that I’ve made for years, it somehow tasted better because of his hand in the process.  And I felt good about including him, passing on some of my love of cooking to him.

_______________________________________

On Sunday afternoon, I was a cook.  I took the things I’d learned in class the day before, and I applied them to my home kitchen.  I had put the chicken in to marinate the night before, so it was all ready to go by Sunday afternoon.

I opted to fry in a mixture of expeller-pressed coconut oil and non-hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  I realize that this is not health food, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use hydrogenated shortening.  As you can see in the photo above, I had some issues with the oil foaming during the frying process.  This did not seem to inhibit a successful outcome, however.

It was crispy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside.  The coconut oil added a bit of extra flavor, but not enough to really be distracting.  If you didn’t know that it was there, I don’t think you could identify it as coconut.  It’s just a hint of sweetness in the background.  It played nicely against the heat from the cayenne and black pepper.

And I can now say that I have successfully learned how to fry chicken, thanks to Chef Shea and the Viking Cooking School.

As confident as I am in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn.  I hope I never forget that.

As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen, it should never be at the expense of my family.  I hope I never forget that.

As much as  I love to cook, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if I didn’t have people I cared about to share it with.  I hope I never forget that.

Southern Fried Chicken (adapted from Viking Cooking Schools’ recipe – my notes in italics)

prep time: 10 minutes

marinade time: 24 hours

cook time: 20-30 minutes

yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk (I used low-fat because it’s all I could find – they suggest full-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt (I used two cloves fresh garlic, minced)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (4-lb) fryer (preferably skin-on) cut into 8 pieces (I used a pre-portioned griller pack from the grocery store that contained 4 legs and two breast halves, which I then cut in half again to make 4 small breast pieces)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste (I used the full 2 teaspoons, and it wasn’t too spicy for my kids)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • healthy pinch of kosher salt
  • 24 ounces vegetable shortening (such as Crisco®) for frying (I used 12 ounces of coconut oil and 12 ounces of palm kernel oil)
  1. For the chicken: whisk together the buttermilk, garlic, salt and pepper.  Place the chicken pieces in the buttermilk mixture and completely submerge.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cayenne, paprika, black pepper and salt; place in a large plastic bag.  Lift a piece of the chicken out of the buttermilk mixture, allowing the excess buttermilk to drain off. Add one piece of chicken at the time to the bag, and shake to thoroughly coat.  Place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet to rest until ready to fry.  Continue with the remaining pieces of chicken.
  3. Spoon the shortening into a large, deep cast-iron skillet or dutch oven.  Place over medium-high heat until the melted shortening regiserts 350F on a deep-fry thermometer.  The fat should come halfway up the sides of the pan. (Note: an even oil temperature is key to the success of this recipe; a deep-fry thermometer should be kept in the pot at all times. Make sure the temperature never drops below 325F or rises above 365F during the cooking process. As I stated – we did not use a thermometer, but I do recommend it the first few times you try this recipe).
  4. Once the fat has come to 350F, fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until golden brown and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes. (Note: do not overcrowd the pan, or the chicken will not cook evenly).  Turn and fry until golden brown on the second side, about 6 to 8 minutes more.  Between batches, use a skimmer to remove all crispy bits floating in the oil.  (Note: if chicken is brown but not quite cooked through, place in a 350F oven to finish the cooking process, about 5 to 10 minutes).  Cook white meat to an internal temperature of 165F, and dark meat to an internal temperature of 175F.
  5. Enjoy!

Disclaimer:  I was invited to take this class for free.  The opinions in this post are my own.  Click here to see a selection of cooking classes offered through Viking Cooking School Atlanta.

Because We’re Friends {Chocolate Sorbet}

I’d like to think that we’re friends.  You know, the kind of friends that tell each other about stuff.  Like, you might call me and tell me about a promotion at work or about the terrible day that you had yesterday.  And I might email you or text you when I hear some juicy gossip or when there’s a sale at Victoria’s Secret.

Okay.  Maybe we’re not those kinds of friends.  But we might be after I tell you about this super simple, impossibly rich and creamy chocolate sorbet recipe.  You might just decide that I’m your best friend.  You might drop all of your other friends just to spend time with me.  It’s that good.

Just to be clear – it’s not my recipe.  I’m just passing along a link I saw on Facebook the other day.  And maybe you saw it too – in all likelihood you did.  But the question is – did you try it?  Because if you didn’t?  You’re totally missing out.

Food52’s Kristen Miglore does a weekly feature on recipes she considers to be “genius.”  This past Wednesday, it was David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sorbet from his 2007 cookbook The Perfect Scoop.  When I saw the ridiculously short ingredient list, I was skeptical.

Cocoa, water, sugar, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla and salt.

That’s all.  Really.  And it comes together in all of 5 minutes.  The longest and hardest part of the recipe is waiting for the chocolate mixture to cool enough to put it in the ice cream freezer.  It’s really dumb how easy it is.

I’m not going to reproduce the recipe here, since I followed it to the letter.  I will tell you that Food52 says this is a vegan recipe, but I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate and it contains milk solids – so if you’re looking for a truly vegan version, this ain’t it.  I urge you to try this – especially if you’re a chocolate lover.  It’s creamy, smooth and deeply chocolatey.  This is chocolate ice-cream’s grown-up alter ego.  It forgoes the extra trappings of eggs and cream, leaving you with the true essence of chocolate.

And, because we’re friends (and we really are now, aren’t we?), I’ll leave you with this little tip.  Pour some of this banana liquer over top that chocolate sorbet, and your life will never be the same.  Bananas not your thing?  Try some Grand Marnier or Franjelico.  Whatever you do?  Make this sorbet.  You’ll thank me (your BFF).

David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sorbet on Food52

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger {and some thoughts on salad}

I guess I kind of disappeared for a month.  Sometimes a girl just needs to take some time off, to get away (figuratively, that is), to relax, relate, release (name that 80s sitcom).

Not a lot has happened since we last chatted.  I’ve mostly just been working and spending time with family.

Over spring break, most of our time was spent putting a new roof on our barn (which is really just a barn-shaped storage shed, but it sounds much cooler to say we re-roofed the barn).  When that was all over, we pitched a tent in the backyard and camped with the boys.

We rambled in the woods,

cooked over an open fire,

and generally enjoyed being outside, away from the television and the computer.  Of course, the two-year-old didn’t make it through the night in the tent, so I had to take him upstairs at around 2 a.m. and put him in his crib.  I think our oldest really enjoyed getting to finish the night in the tent with his dad, just the two of them.

For Easter we kept it pretty low-key.

The boys hunted eggs.

And caterpillars.  Which are now pupating in their cocoons in our dining room (in an enclosed container, of course).

I’ve been running (really), and getting better at it slowly.  The weather has been really nice – cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons.  Mid-morning has been the perfect running temperature, so I’ve been getting outside and doing a 3.1 mile circuit around our neighborhood.  I have yet to make it the entire way without having to stop to walk part of the way, but I’m increasing my pace every time I go out, so that’s good.

I haven’t been cooking as much as usual, mostly because I’ve been trying to spend more time outside with the kids, which eats into the cooking time.  What I have been doing a lot of is throwing together fresh salads with a little bit of protein.

A whole mess of salad greens, topped with some thinly sliced red onion, fresh jalapeno, avocado, some tomatoes (if you can find them in season where you are – if not, sometimes I use salsa on my salads), and sprinkling of cheese – sometimes feta, sometimes shredded cheddar.  I dice up a couple of ounces of protein – grilled chicken or shrimp works well – and top it all with a light dressing.

Tonight it was chicken breasts that I’d butterflied, marinated quickly in a little lime juice and worcestershire sauce, and cooked quickly in a cast-iron skillet.  I put it all in a flour tortilla that I’d baked in the oven to make a tortilla bowl and I topped the whole thing with my new favorite salad dressing – mix 1 tablespoon of sour cream with 1/2 a cup of salsa (make your own, or use a good quality jarred salsa).  It’s super simple and delicious.

I think we’ve eaten salad for dinner five nights out of the last seven.

A lot of this has to do with economy – of time, of calories, of effort.

Did you know that the word prodigal means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant”?  I was beginning to feel like I was being extravagant with my food, with my time, and particularly with my effort on this blog.  I was sacrificing time for myself, for my family, for my friends, in order to keep coming up with the next recipe, the next blog post.

I needed to simplify.  To focus on what was important – the kids, my husband, our health and our relationships.

And we’re all much happier for it.

So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not here as often as I was.  And if the posts focus on more simple meals – healthy things that you can put together quickly, and that will allow you to spend more time doing the things that are important.

Salad with Grilled Chicken
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 romaine heart, diced
  • 1/2 an avocado, diced
  • 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 ounce sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 flour tortillas (optional)
  1. If you want the tortilla bowl, take your flour tortillas and fit them into four oven-safe bowls and bake them at 350F for 15 minutes.  This will make them dry out and keep the bowl shape.
  2. For the chicken, combine breasts, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, oil, salt and pepper in a zip top bag and let marinate for 20 minutes or so.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over high heat and cook the chicken breasts thoroughly – about 8 minutes per side.  They should get nice and golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cut into desired shapes for serving (strips, dice, etc).  I usually allow 2-3 ounces per person, but my husband can eat an entire 6-ounce breast in one sitting.
  4. To assemble the salad:  place a four cups of greens in the bowl.  Top with diced avocado, sliced onion, sliced jalapeno, shredded cheese and diced chicken.  You could also include black beans, fresh corn cut off the cobb, diced bell pepper, or any other vegetable of your choosing.
  5. For the dressing: combine the salsa and sour cream.  Pour over salad.
  6. Enjoy!

π r squared (but these pies are round)

Pardon my absenteeism lately – I don’t really have an excuse.  It’s spring, the time change has knocked me for a loop, and my creativity in the kitchen is severely stifled these days.  Otherwise, things are good.

Flowers are blooming, the weather is lovely, and we’ve started our summer garden.  We’ve expanded it by approximately 200 square feet, which means we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  It also means (hopefully) that we’ll have a lot more food coming out of it this summer.  We’ll see.

I don’t have anything new to share with you, unfortunately, but in honor of national π day (March 14, i.e. 3.14), I thought I’d share some of my favorite pi(e) posts from days of yore.  I hope you enjoy some pie with your π.

One of my most popular posts to date: Shepherd’s Pie (also appropriate for St. Paddy’s Day on Saturday)

 In Celebration of a Life: Peanut Butter Pie

Dried Apple Slab Pie

This ridiculous chocolate pie

This nut tart, which is like a pi(e) – right?

Cherry Pie, to be shared.

Happy π Day!

A Post Dedicated to Community Supported Agriculture

Over the summer, I took the time to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It was the height of gardening season, we’d just acquired our first round of chickens, and I was completely enamored of her stories of sustainability and year-round local eating.

Of course I was – our garden was overflowing with tomatoes and beans and peppers, and there was local produce to be had at farmers markets and roadside stands everywhere I turned.  Even the chain grocers carried local and regional fruits and vegetables, and proclaimed it proudly with prominent signage.

When fall rolled around, I even planted a “winter garden” full of a variety of cruciferous vegetables – cabbages and brussels sprouts and broccoli and greens – along with tender lettuces and spinach.  Unfortunately, the brassicae were more fodder for a host of Mamestra brassicae (cabbage moths and their larvae) than they were for our family.  We managed to eke out a few small heads of broccoli and some collard greens, but for the most part the chickens enjoyed the leafy treats crawling with juicy caterpillars.  Our lettuces did well, though.

About four weeks ago, the Marketing Team Leader at Harry’s Farmer’s Market (with whom I’m partnering on the pantry stock-up giveaway – if you haven’t already entered, there’s still time!) announced on their facebook page that they were working with Rockin’ S Farms to put together a Community Supported Agriculture subscription program.  I was so excited to hear this – I’d read about Rockin’ S on Jenn Carter’s A Hundred Miles of Food blog, and was intrigued by this little farm located about 14 miles northeast of my house.  They grow their own corn for meal and grits, and grind it on their property.  They also make jams and jellies, and are known for their chow-chow.  I immediately decided that I would give their CSA program a chance.  I even had a chance to meet Nichelle Stewart, one of the owners, and her family at Harry’s one day when I went in to pick up my produce.

The thing about eating locally year round is that winter can be a tough time for produce.  Luckily, here in Georgia we’ve had a very mild winter so far, which means our winter growing season has been extended.  However, winter vegetables are very different from what we’re used to in the spring and summer.  Instead of brightly colored summer squashes, peppers and tomatoes, we’re talking about root vegetables, leafy greens and densely packed heads of cabbage.  As far as fruits go, you might still be able to get some varieties of apples, persimmons, pears and pomegranates.  And since we’re close to Florida, citrus is always an option.

One of my favorite ways to use kale

Our bags from Rockin S’ are always chock full of picked-fresh (usually the morning of the day they are delivered) greens and root vegetables. We’re also privy to bags of corn meal and grits, as well as shiny jars of preserves.  One week we even got honey from a local bee keeper.  I’ve had a great time coming up with new and interesting ways to incorporate these vegetables into our meal routine.  Yesterday, I had a comment on my facebook page from a fellow CSA subsriber.  I had mentioned using rutabagas from our bags one week to make dinner for our family.  She said she was a little inexperienced with some of these veggies, and asked for more info on how we used the rutabagas.  It occurred to me that there might be more people out there with similar questions (Nichelle Stewart from Rockin’ S does a great job of including recipes and information in the bags each week, by the way), so I decided to do a post recapping some of the ways we’ve put this bounty to good use, including the Kale Carbonara pictured above.

This salad with greens, pomegranate arals, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese is based on one that Tami of Running with Tweezers featured a couple of weeks ago. I shredded up some napa cabbage and colorful rainbow chard from one of our bag one week, and subbed chevre and pumpkins seeds for Tami’s pine nuts and aged goat cheese.  It was a huge hit at a dinner party we went to, and I’ve been making variations on it ever since.

This Asian-style beef stew is loosely based on this recipe for pot roast from Whole Foods.  I used carrots, beets and rutabagas as the vegetables in the pot and added some orange zest to brighten things up a bit.  It was delicious.

And for breakfast this morning, I made rutabaga and mixed-greens hash with a poached egg.  I love hash, and typically make it with potatoes.  Nichelle had mentioned that they use turnips and rutabagas in place of potatoes in lots of different applications so I thought I’d try them here.  I have to admit, I’ve always had a slight aversion to turnips.  They have a slightly bitter earthy flavor that can be a little offputting.  However, I really enjoy them in this hash.Rutabaga Hash
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 large rutabaga, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 small carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup mixed greens (I used rainbow chard and mustard greens), cut into thin ribbons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by melting the coconut oil in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.

Add the rutabaga and carrot and spread out into a single layer.  Allow to cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes (you want them to get good and brown on one side before stirring).  After the first five minutes, check to see if they have browned sufficiently.  At this point, stir periodically to make sure that rutabaga pieces get brown on all sides.

Toward the end of the cooking time, add the greens.  If necessary, cover for a couple of minutes to make sure the rutabagas are cooked through.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve topped with a poached or fried egg and a sprinkling of hot sauce.

I have really enjoyed the challenge of finding creative ways to use the vegetables I’ve received from Rockin’ S Farms.  I love knowing where the food comes from, who grew it and harvested it, and that I’m doing my part, however small, to support our local economy and agriculture industry.  Nichelle and her family are providing a wonderful service, and we’re lucky to have access to that.

Don’t forget to click over to this post and let me know your New Years Resolutions (maybe you resolved to eat more locally this year!), or tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  You could win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods, courtesy of Harry’s Farmers Market.

 

A Celebration, a Goal, and a Gift For You

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that it has been exactly two years since I first started this blog.  Two years.  I can’t really believe I’ve stuck with it for that long.  I’m notorious for starting things and then giving them up before I’ve gotten very far.

Speaking of sticking with things (or not), I have a confession to make.  I started 2011 with a goal to eat healthier and to exercise more.  In January of 2011, I was about 10 lbs. heavier than I wanted to be. I blamed it on “baby weight” that I’d never lost (the “baby” was a year old at that time).  I thought if I introduced more whole foods, cut back on the meat and dairy, and introduced some moderate exercise I would easily drop that 10 lbs. in no time.

Now we’re in January of 2012

(2012!!)

and instead of having lost that extra 10 lbs. I’ve put on 20 more.  There, I said it.  I’m 30 lbs. overweight, and I hate it.  I guess those 2011 goals didn’t really work out so well.

This year, I’m bound and determined to stick with it.  I know – everyone is setting goals and making resolutions right now.  It’s the thing to do. My most popular posts over the last few days have had to do with kale and greens and whole grains.  People are looking to eat better and get healthy in the new year.

I’m doing a couple of things to help me along on my goals.  First, I joined the Couch to 5k training program.  I’ve never been a runner.  In fact, I’ve kind of always hated running.  In high school I would do whatever was necessary to avoid running in PE.  I’m now almost done with week two of the nine week training program, and I can honestly say that I still hate running.  BUT, I’m sticking with it.  I suck at it, but I’m doing it.  And I can tell I’m getting better at it, in teeny-tiny minute increments.  So that’s something.

The second thing I’m doing is partnering with my local Harry’s Farmers Market to give my pantry a healthy makeover.  Whole Foods, in their Whole Story blog, issued a $50 pantry makeover challenge.  Their claim is that you can buy a list of pantry staples at Whole Foods (which I realize some people refer to as “whole paycheck”) for about $50.  The items on the list are:

  • 1 lb black beans
  • 1 lb lentils
  • 1 lb quinoa
  • 2 lbs brown rice
  • 3 (32-oz) boxes vegetable broth
  • 1 (32-oz) box chicken broth
  • 1 lb rolled oats
  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • 1 lb orechiette pasta
  • 1 lb pasta, your favorite kind
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 jar unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 (32-oz) box unsweetened soymilk
  • 1 (32-oz) box unsweetened almondmilk
  • 1 (5-oz) can tuna
  • 3 (15-oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 package no-oil sundried tomatoes
  • 1 jar pasta sauce

Whole Foods is running a contest through the end of January to give away five grand-prize packages of a year’s worth of pantry staples and a pantry makeover.  They’re also giving away 31 pantry stock-ups valued at $50 each.  All you have to do is leave a comment on the post on the blog.

Harry’s contacted me to see if I wanted to participate in the challenge.  They offered to either provide me with a $50 gift card that I could personally use for the challenge, or that I could give away to one of my readers.  I decided to take the challenge on my own, just to see if I could really buy everything on the list for around $50, and to save the gift card for one of you.

Today I went to Harry’s armed with my list and a few coupons that I’d printed off of their website.  My shopping trip took a little over an hour (mostly because I had a hard time finding canned-tuna and sundried tomatoes), but in the end I wound up spending less than $45 for the items on the list.

I had four coupons for $1 off various items, and I got two $.10 bag credits.  Even if I hadn’t had the coupons and the bags, my total would have been right around $50.  I did make a couple of substitutions: I got two cartons of almond milk instead of one almond and one soy (I don’t do soy milk), and I purchased two 28-oz. cans of tomatoes instead of three 15-oz. cans. I also accidentally got an extra bag of rice that added $1.99 to my total.

That’s a lot of food.  I’m not sure it will last us the whole month, but we’ll certainly try.  I plan to keep you all updated on our progress here on the blog, and to include recipes for things that we make with these ingredients.  I figure that all of these pantry staples paired with the produce I get from the Rockin’ S Farms CSA I recently joined and the meat I get from Riverview Farms should get us pretty far.

For lunch today, I made this recipe for Tuscan Tuna Salad from the Whole Foods website.  I served mine on a bed of mixed greens that I got in this week’s CSA bag (spicy mustard greens were a very nice addition) with some whole-grain crackers on the side.  I highly recommend it.

For dinner, I chose this recipe for Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Sundried Tomatoes and White Beans.  I subbed broccoli from our garden for the broccoli rabe, but otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter.  Even my kids liked it.  My husband and I ate ours with a mixed-green salad on the side and there was plenty left over for lunch tomorrow. The key (in my opinion) is adding the water from the reconstituted tomatoes along with the pasta water at the end.  So good.

Okay, here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for.  Because the blog is two, because I’m determined to stick with my goals this year, and mostly just because I appreciate you all so much, I’m teaming up with Harry’s Farmers Market to give one of you a $50 Whole Foods Gift card that you can use to make over your own pantry (the gift card can be used at any Whole Foods store).  Here’s how you can enter to win:

Tell me in the comments what your New Years resolution was this year.  Are you going to stick to a budget for the first time ever? Are you going to get a pedicure every two weeks? Is your goal to read the Harry Potter series from start to finish before 2013?  Whatever the goal, let me know and you’ll be entered to win.

You can also tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.

Do either of those things between now and 12:00 PM Eastern time on January 30, 2012 and you’ll be entered to win.  Do both to be entered twice.  Limited to two entries (one here, one on twitter) per person, please.  I’ll announce a winner on January 31.

Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas ( A Round-up of Sorts)

Can you believe that tomorrow is December 1? I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing – holding on to November for as long as I possibly can.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting a new job on Monday. Yes, right in the middle of the holiday fray, I’m starting a new job and putting my youngest back into day care. What stress? What added pressure?

It’s definitely for the best, and I’m really excited about the opportunity. It just comes (as most things do) at a particularly busy time.

With that in mind, it might be a while before I post anything on the blog. It’s not that I won’t be baking and cooking, it’s just that I’m not sure how much writing and editing time I’ll have. I’m prepared, though. I’m arming you with some of my favorite holiday posts from last year to get you started. These were all big hits with my friends and family, and I hope you’ll enjoy making and giving them as much as I did.

Homemade Panettone (excellent for French Toast)
Time consuming, but totally worth it!

Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
A versatile cookie recipe that adapts to all manner of flavors and add-ins.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
As delicious as they are beautiful!

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
If you’ve ever been intimidated by royal icing, this should help you overcome your fears!

So, thanks to all of you for continuing to come to this little corner of the internet.  I’m grateful for your support and feedback, and for your patience when things get a little sporadic.  Life continues to happen for all of us outside of cyberspace, and I’m thankful that I still have a creative outlet and a place to share the things I love.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes, and if you give them as gifts or keep them all to yourselves (I know I’m tempted to do that with those caramels, and with that panettone).  Hopefully I’ll find that I have time to continue to post regularly, but if not, maybe you’ll find some inspiration from these in the meantime.

Enjoy!

Thankful

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m sitting in a quiet house with sun streaming in through the windows.  My children are either napping or playing quietly in their rooms, and at least half of the cooking for tomorrow is already done.  There is gratitude here.

I had every intention of sharing a Thanksgiving-type recipe here at some point over the last two weeks.  Then, this morning, I looked up and realized Thanksgiving was tomorrow.  And I had yet to post a holiday-themed anything.  I think that’s okay, though.  I’m sure you’ve had enough of stuffing, pie, sweet potato and turkey recipes.  Lord knows I have.
Instead I’m sharing this photo with you.  I shot this on my trip to St. Simons Island a couple of weeks ago.  We’d gone out on a shrimp boat, and these gulls trailed behind us the entire time.  Ever the opportunists, gulls have learned where they can grab an easy meal.  As the net is raised from the water, they flock en masse waiting to pluck a tasty morsel from the air.  This particular photo was taken as our guide threw a fish overboard – the lucky bird in the bottom right corner caught it in mid-air.  I aimed the camera and fired the shutter, not even waiting to see if it was in focus.  It was a split second, and then I moved on.

It wasn’t until almost a week later, when I was sifting through the hundreds of photos I’d taken, that I even remembered the moment.  As I clicked on the thumbnail, I didn’t expect much from the picture.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that fish grasped in the beak of the gull.  Pure luck, that – no skill involved (unless you count mad reflexes).

As I studied the details of the photo, I was struck by the beauty of the birds.  Usually I avoid seagulls at all costs.  Like pigeons, I tend to think of them as “rats with wings.”  Scavengers, nuisance birds.  But when you see them in flight, as you do above, their grace and skill is evident.  This photo gave me a whole new perspective.

I guess this post follows suit with my last one.  Beauty and grace are found in so many unexpected places.  There are wonderful surprises around every turn – a surprise photo, a new job (!), new friends, new opportunities that at one time seemed impossible.  You just have to be open to them, and perhaps willing to look at them through a different lens to see them for the blessings that they truly are.

I am thankful for the unexpected, and abundant, blessings in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Doldrums

Inactivity.  Stagnation.  Lack of motivation.

It’s like I’ve just been drifting along in dead water, waiting for the wind to propel me forward.  And so far, it just hasn’t come along – hence the lack of content here on the blog.  It seems I lost all inspiration after the move and redesign.

Hopefully, these next couple of weeks will be just what I need.  I’ll be taking a break (or maybe just extending the one I’ve already inadvertently started) from the blog while we take a much needed vacation.  In Hawaii.  Don’t hate me.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of some beautiful zinnias for you to enjoy.  A little thank you to anyone who stops by this little corner of the internet.  And I promise to get back to cooking and writing upon my return.

Aloha!