At Home In The Muddy Water…With Muffins

The present moment.
The present moment.

The Universe, she is a fickle bitch.

I suppose the same could be said for many of us. One moment we are sunshine, light, and warmth…the next we are woe-is-meing and at the bottom of the very darkest well.

And by “we” I mean “me,” and sometimes just that quickly.

Not five hours after the last blog post in which I expounded on deep places of stillness and grace, I discovered I actually owe the IRS about five grand, received a $52 parking ticket when I went to go pick up a useless, destroyed purse of mine that was stolen six weeks ago, and found out that there is a distinct possibility that my mobile phone company (who shall hereafter be referred to as “Fucking T-Mobile”) will not cover the cost of a new phone, even though A) I have insurance, and B) the old phone is well and truly broken through no fault of my own.

Well played, Universe.

It’s like a test.

I am pretty sure I failed it just a little bit when I stormed into the house, railing against bills and screaming at The Teenager to clean up her mess and you left a towel in my bathroom and for chrissakes I am sick of cleaning up dog shit so clean up the backyard.

It’s a bit much to take, all at once.

And then, in a brief moment of clarity, I remembered this:

May we exist like a lotus,

At home in the muddy water.

Thus we bow to life as it is.

I found this little verse in the book At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace Within Everyday Chaos by Ezra Bayda. In it, he talks about how we constantly accept life’s blessings as our birthright, then suddenly turn to the universe and moan, “Why me?” when things don’t go our way.

To this, Bayda replies, “Why not you?”

Why not, indeed.

Should someone else owe taxes instead of me? Get a ticket? Have a 15-year-old?

It’s not a test. It’s just life. One day after another, one trauma and triumph and minor insult and lovely moment at a time.

The test is not in the events. The test is in what you do with them. Much of this is mindset, meeting what happens as it happens.

I have not been good at this in the past, this being in the moment, calm acceptance type of person. I think if maybe these woe-ful events were carefully spaced, then perhaps I might be better at it, but turns out the universe and its attendant whims is not necessarily a Day-Timer kind of entity.

In these times, and in all times, actually, because once a quote speaks to me and I interact with it in my brain it is forever burned there, and I will use it over and over, the Department of Redundancy Department, I am reminded of the distinction between anxiety and depression:

Anxiety looks to the future.

Depression looks to the past.

Present is always exceptionally hard for me because in addition to death and taxes and dogs and teenagers there are a myriad other things to worry about and reflect upon. Things that pull me out of what is now.

Things that may happen soon or have already happened but are not the reality of this moment.

Present, for me, requires a nudge. Something to tether me to what is in currently in my face. Something that will help me turn my phone face down, leave the ringer off, or just “forget” that I left it on the counter at home.

Present today? Well, present at my house today makes muffins. Gluten-free, sweet, barely-considered-breakfast muffins with fat blueberries taking up most of the cake.

Present at my house wants these muffins right now, dammit, so this recipe takes 30 minutes, from the first scoop of flour to taking fresh, hot muffins out of the oven and shoving them in your face.

I’d say that’s a pretty good way to live in the moment.

Blueberry Muffins

Double-plus bonus: These are so simple that you could actually make them while your first cup of coffee is brewing. Seriously. Regular AP flour works here, too. #InstantLove



1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar


2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups blueberries

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 T light brown sugar
2 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 T melted butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a muffin tin (butter, oil, or cooking spray. #ItsNotRocketScience #PlusYouAreSleepy)

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add blueberries and stir to combine.

Fill muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your muffins.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Eat many of the muffins and go about your day.

Voila. The present moment, only with fresh, hot muffins. #Om

The Peace of Wild Things

Aren't we all a little crackers?
Aren’t we all a little crackers?

My particular friend sent me a love poem the other day.

I had seen it before; this poem has made the rounds of self-help books and memes for many several years, usually as a call to nature.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry –

I don’t know why, but on this rainy day this poem, sent by my particular friend, takes me to a place of deep, abiding stillness.

That place where nothing really matters, not in a melancholy way but in the way of knowing what it means to be truly content with what simply is.

That place that has no boundaries except the sides of the universe that stretch infinitely.

That place where nothing is unforgiven, no fault is laid, there is no rush, pressure, or blame.

That place that might be called Grace in its most passive form: free and unmerited favor. Bestowal of blessings.

Obvi not a place that exists in the real world, except maybe on those rare occasions when you truly have nothing to do, all  day to do it, and a particular friend of your own with whom to do it. Then time slides through and around you like water slipping over a mossy rock.

The peace of wild things lives here, in this place.

There are other ways I can get to this place of grace…in the peaceful company of wild things.

Yoga, sometimes, when I am not beating myself up. Trikonasana, heart to the sky. Ardha chandrasana, open and balanced.

Sex, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), particularly the satisfying kind, tangled in the bedsheets afterwards, on the sleepy precipice, cells bathed in their own lovely wash of delight.

And cooking. Food.

Cooking takes me there, to grace. Even as my mind is racing through possibilities or running down a list of ingredients there is a meditative calm and stillness at the center of this work that isn’t work.

To describe myself in such terms – calm, meditative, still – is a rare and precious thing.

And yet.

When I come to the kitchen, there it is. And if it’s not there I can surely find it at the bottom of the bowl.

That place that is so quiet and still that I can hear my own voice, strong and steady in my throat and heart.

That undemanding timespace that somehow knits back together the very best parts of myself.

It doesn’t quite matter what I make.

It’s the act. The art.

Everyday Crackers

Crackers may seem an odd choice, but if it’s good enough for Jesus (grace and all), it’s good enough for me. Plus, these are easy and delicious and very nearly impossible to screw up. Very forgiving. #Grace

3 cups gluten free all-purpose flour blend
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 1 ½ tsp. fennel, 1 ½ tsp. sesame seeds, ½ t. salt, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, combined, toasted, and cooled

Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Lightly flour two cookie sheets. Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/8” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other. Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the crackers halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.

National Margarita Day

Turns out February is a cocktail-heavy month.
Turns out February is a cocktail-heavy month.


Monday, February 22, 2016 is National Margarita Day. I am giving you a full week to prepare.

In my neck of the woods, where the handlebar mustaches are still in season and a full beard is properly oiled and trimmed, mezcal is the next big thing.

It’s not National Mezcal Day, though (which is October 21st, so proclaimed by a Tennessee country singer named Toby Keith in a bit of shameless self-promotion for his new branded mezcal. Because as we all know, there is a ton of mezcal in Tennessee. #ThatsAboutTenTonsOfBullshit).

To set the record straight, every tequila is mezcal, but every mezcal isn’t tequila. Tequila is made from one plant only (blue agave), whilst mezcal can be a delicious blend of 30 different plants.

Let’s be honest, though. Unless you are still in college and paying for booze with student loans, it’s time to grow up and drink better than that. Sure, you can make margarita with some sour mix and rail tequila, but as a thinking, rational adult, why the hell would you?

Do not fuck around.

Fresh lime, Cointreau (orange liqueur), and high-quality tequila.

That’s it. Three ingredients, so they all have to be spot-on.

But not precious. It is, after all, a margarita.

And for fuck’s sake, please don’t drink it frozen. It’s not a goddamn Slurpee.

You get a free pass if you are on an island, in a swim-up bar, or that’s what someone makes at a party and puts in your hand. #BeGraciousSayThankYou

It is this blog’s not so measured opinion that margaritas should be consumed on the rocks with a heavy salt rim, no straw.

Give it a try. You have your assignment.

The Only Margarita Recipe You Need #Trust


2 oz. high quality tequila (if you wouldn’t sip it neat, don’t use it)

1 oz. Cointreau

1 oz. fresh lime juice (back away from the plastic fucking lime. Jesus.)

Coarse salt, lime wedge


Rub the rim of a rocks glass with a lime wedge. Dip rim in coarse salt. Fill glass with fresh ice. Set aside.

Throw all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake until it is icy cold and frothy as hell.

Strain over ice. Serve with a lime wedge.


Galentine’s Day: Coffeecake And Connection


February is a challenging month in the Kolbeck household. It is bittersweet, being the month in which I had my first date with my husband in 1999 and also the month that he died in a car crash, 14 years to the exact day later on February 16th, 2013.

The universe is fucking crazy like that. Either it has a twisted sense of humor, or it is just ironic and strange with no real logic.

But the other part of the universe that is beautiful and brilliant and decidedly untwisted or ironic is that these strange and horrible coincidences give others a chance to show up for you.

I have had to become a fairly crusty soul; although I have been the beneficiary of the occasional helping hand, for the most part I have relied on myself and my own bootstraps – emotionally, psychically, physically, and financially.

I am not great at asking for help, and I am extra double-plus ungreat at showing anyone my gooey center.


But when Dane died my eyes opened. And I had no idea they were closed. So there’s that.

Then all of these lovely people showed up for The Teenager and I.

They showed up with tools and expertise to literally help us raise the roof of the tiny house.

They showed up with loving support online as I posted raw and gut-wrenching blogs about grief, blogs that I myself cannot read today.

They showed up with cash at times, which, I’m not gonna lie, was helpful because I have no idea where all of the money went in that first year because everything was blurred and numb and decidedly not budget-oriented.

They showed up when they prayed for us but did not tell us Dane was in a better place or that god has a plan. #StowThatShit

As we approach the third anniversary of Dane’s death and truly settle in to a new life, it has become clearly apparent to me what is happy-making and good and valuable.


This guy, a fancy researcher who is the 4th lead of a 75-year study on what makes people happy, totally agrees with me. #ScienceCatchesUpWithSuzannah

In this TEDTalk on what really makes people happy, Robert Waldinger uncovers what the secret to happiness is:

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”


While these findings make the introvert in me a little nervous and long for a quiet space to read and maybe have a drink, the deepest part of me recognizes that it’s true. It’s the quality of the connection that I have with the people in my life, the ones I choose as well as the ones I was born to/with.

As I move through this life, it seems like the connections I choose to have, as opposed to the ones I was born with, have become even more important to me. Part of working in the shadows is realizing which connections we are supposed to nurture and which should be let go. Which connections are toxic and harmful.

It’s about leaving behind the person I never wanted to be in the first place and learning to embrace the person I actually am.

Side note: As celebratory as this post should be, I had to go back through it and change everything I have written thus far into an “I” statement. I get philosophical when I get too close to the bone, which for me means I avoid actually talking about The Thing That Should Be Talked About. And in this case, that Thing is about choosing to stay connected with the people who fill me up. And that is hard to talk about because it also means truth-telling to those who are draining and should be left behind.

But on to the important things.

February 13th is Galentine’s Day, a made-up holiday if there ever was one. Amy Poehler’s character (Leslie Knope) from Parks & Rec made it up to celebrate female friendships.

Bresties before testes.

Uteruses before duderuses.

“It’s like Lilith Fair without the angst, plus frittatas.”


Crab and asparagus frittata, to be precise, plus this cream cheese apple coffee cake (among other things; I want the menu to be a surprise). The Teenager and I are inviting local female friends for brunch on February 13th, the first annual Galentine’s Day celebration at the Kolbeck house. We will be boozing it up with some of the best women we know, and raising a glass to the other best women we know who live far away or cannot attend. #NextYear

Even if you’re not a gal, there is no reason whatsoever why you cannot have this cake. Luscious and cinnamon-y and filled with apples and everything else good in the world (except chocolate, but that base will be covered elsewhere in brunch #NeverFear).

I won’t lie: this recipe a bit of a pain in the ass with lots of steps and dirty dishes, which is why it’s perfect for brunch when you have had some coffee to start with. Drink mimosas while you make it and you won’t care anyway.

Cream Cheese Apple Coffee Cake

This recipe is not mine; it’s from a site called Yammie’s Noshery that is chockablock full of ridiculous ads that make the site slow and unresponsive. I don’t want to send you there, so I have recreated it here. Some of the directions are different, and I, of course, made it gluten-free. Feel free to use regular AP flour in this one. 

Cake Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups chopped apples (I didn’t peel mine. #TooLazy)


Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons white sugar


Streusel Ingredients

3/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter



1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease an 9″ x 13″ pan.

2. Combine the butter and sugars for the cake and mix until fluffy. Add the egg, oil, and vanilla and mix until combined.

3. Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chopped apples. Spread into the prepared pan.

4. Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla for the cream cheese layer and spread over the cake batter in the pan.

5. Combine all the streusel ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until well combined. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the topping is browned.

Let cool until you cannot take it anymore, then eat with a fork because it is gooey and still warm and so delicious you can hardly stand it. Definitely cut a piece and move away from the pan because if you stand over it with a fork you will eat it all and have none left for your loved ones. #GetYourOwnDamnCoffeeCake

Sunshine In The Rain: Candied Oranges

Pilfered produce. Felonious fruit.
Pilfered produce. Felonious fruit.

My grandmother is 97, and she steals fruit and vegetables from the cafeteria and gardens of her assisted living facility.

Perhaps I should backtrack a bit, lest you get the wrong idea.

My grandmother is, in truth, 97. I am not going to add that “years young” bullshit. Irene Kalman is 97. Sharp and witty and mentally all there but still every bit of 97 with Meuniere’s disease and vertigo and odd, fussy habits that the elderly seem to develop. She gets dizzy if she stands up too quickly and has recently conceded to a walker, only to store her keys and various bits and bobs that she travels around the facility with.

When The Teenager and I visit, she talks about being surrounded by “old people.” Obvi, she does not number herself among their ranks.

Every day she gets up and does her hair and puts on makeup. Her hair is that particular kind of spun white floss that envelops her skull like clouds and I always want to touch it but I don’t because #boundaries.

She wears sweaters from 1982 and shoes that may be at least as old as I am (44, if we are keeping track. Forty-five on March 14th, and, yes, appropriate tributes are accepted. #PleaseAndThankYou).

Our visits are always the same. We update her about all of the things we are doing, keeping the more challenging or troubling times out of our narrative and focusing on how busy, active, and healthy we are (even if that means we left the cheese off our tortilla chips when we sat on the couch and watched football all day). My grandmother has that Depression-era peculiarity of dwelling on bad news and glossing over it, concurrently. You wouldn’t think this was possible, but don’t get her started on the Dust Bowl or cooking when you have no money.

We avoid this tendency to fret by ignoring troubling topics and keeping everything light. Sometimes it’s unavoidable though, like The Unfortunate Time My Husband Died and The Fact That Donald Trump Exists In The World. When this happens, we shake our heads ruefully together and bemoan the fates while looking resolutely towards the future. There is no dwelling, although my grandmother and I are Champion Worriers, so we each of us dwell in our own private ways later. #SleepingPillsForHer #AnxietyMedsForMe

I think the hardest thing for my grandmother is the fact that she cannot really extend the basic hospitality of feeding her guests. When I was growing up, the main feature of a visit to grandma’s was the food. Fried chicken, lasagna, even once a homemade struedel that took up the entire table in the making. My grandmother is an excellent cook, both personally and professionally, and I think it pains her to be able to offer nothing to those who come to visit.

So she steals fruit from the cafeteria, hoarding it in her room until she has a guest, at which point she unloads her bounty on them, concealing it with wadded up grocery bags so the people who aren’t watching and don’t care won’t catch her.

I figured out awhile ago that this makes her feel good, so I accept whatever she wants to give me.

Unfortunately, this means that I often return home with a thousand navel oranges in the winter.

Citrus and I have an uneven relationship. I don’t even quite regard it as a food, which haz the dumb, I know, but it seems so…liquid. Great as a garnish or in a glass with champagne.

I will occasionally eat an entire box of clementines, mostly because I can’t get over how easy they are to peel and I don’t want to waste.

But still.

This past visit sent us home with ten oranges. And no juicer. And no one in this house who wants to peel them.

But guess what? CANDY. Orangettes, to be precise. Orangettes dipped in dark chocolate, even better.

The next time I visit my grandmother, I will tell her that we ate each one of the oranges and they were so sweet that it was just like candy.



3 cups simple syrup (DIY: combine a one-to-one ratio of sugar and water)

ten oranges, sliced into 1/4″ rounds and then cut in half

Optional: more sugar

Optional: melted chocolate


Bring simple syrup to a low boil. Place oranges in the syrup and simmer for 30-45 minutes. You are looking for a slightly translucent flesh and the pith to be heading that way, too.

Remove from syrup and transfer to a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet. Place in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes or so, just until the orange peel is dry and the flesh feels a little tacky. You should certainly flip them over halfway, and no one would fault you for trying one at this stage. Turn off the oven and let cool, or keep them in there overnight.

At this point, you can toss in sugar, leave as they are, or dip in melted chocolate. I like to toss them in sugar and then dip them in bittersweet chocolate because DELICIOUS.