My Superfriend, Bonnie, previously mentioned in a post that featured her incredible Toasted Cashew Hummus, has been making fun of me lately.
I hadn’t seen her in awhile, the result mostly of her traveling to two different countries in the space of two weeks (and staying there, and knocking heads together when necessary, and co-authoring a paper on a new method for treating – curing? diagnosing? I can’t remember – tuberculosis) while still organizing childcare for two of her three children and dealing with a broken water heater from another continent.
In the midst of all of this, she had (rather foolishly and perhaps to her deep regret) committed to cooking me my Second Annual Birthday Dinner, just one week after she returned to the States. When I stopped by the Sunday before the dinner and she asked me how I was, I spoke the truth.
“I’m tired, ” I said.
She looked at me in a way that could only be described as askance. And can you blame her, really?
I am a freelance writer who teaches yoga and cooks for people. The actual hours I work every week vary greatly, but they don’t come close to the 40 that many others routinely put in. I am also living a child-free existence until June 10th, which means that “homemaking” consists of making sure the dog hair doesn’t get any higher than the bottom of the couch and the toilets are cleaner than a truck stop’s.
But I have been exhausted these past three weeks, drained and sleeping poorly and feeling anxious and sweating pretty much every little thing that my brain can make up to sweat.
This is where a caveat about how I know how much harder everyone else has it, and I shouldn’t complain usually comes in. And make no mistake: this is not a complaint.
I feel incredibly lucky that this morning I got to walk to a coffee shop in Baltimore’s beautiful spring blossoming. And after that I got to sit on the floor of a bookstore and leaf through cookbooks for an hour. And after THAT I got to walk through a sunshower of cherry blossoms raining on the sidewalk on my way home to meet Khristian, where we ate breakfast together and I made bread.
So there is no complaint here.
But there is something important here.
Even if I don’t have a full-time job, I am still allowed to be tired. I am still allowed to feel, as has happened in the past three weeks with multiple projects, overscheduled and understaffed. I know what it’s like to work 80-hour weeks and be a parent, and certainly my fatigue now does not have the same feel to it as that.
Sometimes, though, I just get tired. Tired of meetings every day. Tired of being “on,” and tired of a schedule. People sometimes dismiss themselves and their feelings because other people have it so much worse than they do, and while I think that in the big picture that is the best way to operate, that can be taxing day-to-day. It’s okay to own your struggle, your fatigue, your frustration, your anxiety – even if others have more cause to feel those things.
And again, I have to put in a plug for not only Superfriend Bonnie but also the other people I know, parents or not, partnered parents or not, who are killing it everyday and are SO. FREAKING. TIRED. also. I don’t know how you do it.
I just want to be at home, puttering, and today is a day for that. Today was the first day in awhile that has been unscheduled and unclaimed from the moment that stupid bird woke me up with the sun at 6:04 a.m. until I lay my head back down on the pillow and my millennial neighbors pick up their ill-tuned guitars and start wailing.
The best way I know to stop time when this happens is to put something up, and preserved lemons seem like the way to go.
It’s a simple process that nevertheless takes 30 days to bear fruit (ha). And every day you visit your lemons and give them a little shake.
For the next 30 days, even if I am busy or tired or have too much to do or have to be less of my normal introverted self and more of the extrovert that some of my jobs require, I can look at my little pint jar of sunshine-y time and remember that day I sat on the back deck for just as long as I felt like.
What helps you stop time? What reminds you to slow down?
You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.
But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?
I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.
You will, of course, need a snack.
It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.
There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.
Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.
They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.
But I digress.
Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.
I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.
I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.
Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.
I know you’re busy.
Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread
Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.
Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.
GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)
4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal
1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)
3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk
1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds
Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.
Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.
1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)
Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.
Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.
Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)
4 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.
When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.
Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.
I used kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.
You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.
Slice bread and toast lightly.
Slather ricotta on toast.
Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.
Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.
RULES FOR BEING HUMAN
1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.
2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”
4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”
7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.
8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
10. You will forget all this.
11. You can remember it whenever you want to.
These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?
Get up. Pee. Brush teeth. Drink water, take supplements.
Go downstairs. Start coffee. Let dogs out. Let cat in. Sip coffee. Let dogs in. Feed dogs. Sit down to the computer.
Sip coffee. Check email. Sip coffee. Check work email. Sip coffee. Visit The Facebook. Make more coffee. Get down to writing/recipe research/yoga class design/etc.
It takes a lot to get us out of our routines. From dogs to children to adults, we are all of us creatures of habit. When I was a horse owner, even the horses knew what to do and when; it got so that I didn’t have to put halters on to move them from pasture to pasture, and they stood in the same spot every day for dinner.
The dog knows when it is 5 p.m. just as if he had a watch strapped to his wrist. And could tell time. And had any understanding of the concept of “time.”
But I digress.
Routines provide a sense of structure that can be comforting and predictable. “Predictable” is often used as an epithet, but predictability is what our lives are based on. This keeps the trains running and makes sure that the grocery store has enough toilet paper on any given day (or your own personal bathroom at home, which is why most people in the U.S. go shopping every week).
Sometimes, though, routines call to be busted up. Routine-busting can be because you are compelled to do something differently because whatever is going on forces you to make a change.
If something is gone awry, it might be because whatever routine we have fallen into no longer works, or our routine is suddenly disrupted. We might call it something else, but it’s that transition period between the old and the new – not the the old or the new itself – that causes us such turmoil. Once that period of transition is over, we fall into a new routine until the next thing happens.
This transition is both full of promise and scary as hell, simultaneously. Parents know that the first night with a new baby is joyful and nerve-wracking. Travelers know that coming into a new country for the first time is anxiety-producing and thrilling, often in equal measure.
On a daily, more microcosmic level, this idea of routine versus no routine (or a shook-up routine) is the difference between cooking and making dinner.
Making dinner is that thing that happens between 5 and 7 p.m. every night where you have the gaping maws of your family staring at you, opening and closing like baby birds who have forgotten that they possess opposable thumbs and can get their own damn snack before dinner.
Making dinner is why there is food in boxes that you add milk and butter to in order to get something resembling macaroni and cheese. It’s why there are rotisserie chicken soldiers, hot and ready, when you walk into the store at 5 pm, desperate because it’s Monday and you know everybody at home is hangry and you just need to shove something in their face so there is no arguing.
Cooking is something altogether different.
Cooking is wandering through the farmer’s market and seeing what looks good.
Cooking shops for each meal separately, not all at once, once a week.
Cooking has a sip of wine and is often alone with music playing and maybe a snoring dog (because it’s not necessarily 5 pm yet so the dog isn’t drooling and staring at you).
This recipe is in between making dinner and cooking. There is some leisure to it, but it doesn’t actually require much hands-on attention. There is only one ingredient in this that might require a leisurely trip to a store, but everything else can be thrown into the cart with all of the other groceries.
Leftovers are just as good as the day before and so make excellent brown-bag lunches that will make all of your co-workers drool. I imagine you could also make a ridiculous sandwich with this on some crusty bread with arugula.
Harissa And Orange Spiced Pork Shoulder
Full disclosure: as much as I would like to say it’s mine, this idea is taken from another recipe and adapted with amounts added. The other recipe is a video and doesn’t really specify anything but cooking times, so I made some adjustments to that and also the ingredients based on what was available.
Optional: lime wedges and fresh flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine harissa, tomato paste, vinegar, agave, and garlic in a small bowl. Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper, then rub the harissa mixture all over the pork shoulder (hands work best here). At this point, you could let the pork shoulder sit for a few hours (or overnight), or you can proceed.
Place pork shoulder fat-side-up in a Dutch oven or similar oven-safe, heavy cooking pan with a lid. Pour orange juice around the pork shoulder and throw in the thyme.
Cover pork shoulder and let it roast, covered, for 2 1/2 hours (or so).
Increase heat to 400 degrees and add cannellini beans to the pot. Cover and return to the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour.
When ready to serve, remove pork shoulder and slice. Return pork shoulder to the pot, or arrange on a platter and serve with sauce poured over.
If desired, squeeze fresh lime over the pork shoulder and garnish with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley.
This morning I had grand plans to get all sorts of things done. Normally I teach yoga mid-day on this day, but that was cancelled, freeing up a huge chunk of time between now and when I need to go teach small children to be the best version of themselves (kids’ yoga at an after-school program).
I even thought I’d get dressed instead of working in my jammies all day.
Instead, I spent two hours on the phone with the Maryland Health Exchange, trying to get them to understand that there is no way I would have scheduled a $1,200 physical for my healthy child when I could have gone to a clinic and had it done for less than $200 (or free, thanks to Planned Parenthood).
Full disclosure: I am a HUGE supporter of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). My insurance costs less, has a lower deductible, and covers more than the insurance I have had since 1998 (when I was a teacher in the Seattle Public School system and my entire pregnancy and delivery cost $10). I know it has issues, but let’s take a look at those, shall we?
The physical for my healthy child cost ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. That’s what the insurance company charged for a doctor to take temperature, feel pulse, ask some questions, and test reflexes. There was some blood drawn, and she had one shot (all of this was to study abroad).
Let me reiterate: the insurance company charged $1,200 for a routine physical that lasted less than 45 minutes.
Not to get all political, but the problem with ACA is NOT the bill or the color of the president’s skin. The problem is with the idea that a routine physical should cost as much as a scooter. Or a junky but functional used car. Or a mortgage payment.
The insurance company blamed the Maryland Health Exchange. The Maryland Health Exchange blamed the insurance company. I tried to get the guy on the phone to understand that as a single parent freelance writer and cook, there is no way in hell I would have taken my kid to a fancy-pants doctor without active insurance when I could walk down the street to a clinic and get the same end result (“Your kid is healthy.”) for a tenth of the cost.
There are some things that seem impossible:
Convincing the insurance company that they made a mistake.
Convincing MD Health Exchange that they made a mistake.
Getting the two parties to work together without placing blame – just fix it.
Weird segue, I know, but guess what? Some days, most days these days, pie is necessary but a total PITA. Yes, I know some people feel that rolling crust is very therapeutic, but for me crust has never been easy or fun. I have a few excellent crust recipes, but some days (most days these days) easy and fast are key.
I found this pie online and thought that there was no way in hell it would work. Basically you stir everything together in one big bowl and then it all magically separates as it bakes into crust, custard, and topping. It makes no sense, and it sounds like it would turn out to be like a gross sweet egg mess.
But guess what? The Impossible Pie worked, and it was delicious.
Impossible Pie With Lime And Coconut
Mad props to the original recipe, but I made a few changes. I had no lemons, so I subbed lime and upped the zest. I also cut the sugar and used my gluten-free all-purpose flour. I can’t hardly believe it worked.
Butter and flour a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan. I used cooking spray because I am lazy AF. Just make sure you butter/spray and flour well or the pie will stick.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until they become pale yellow. This may take five or so minutes. The mixture should flow off the beater in a pale ribbony stream.
Add melted butter and milk and mix, then add vanilla, lime juice, and lime zest. Mix to combine, then add flour and mix until combined (no lumps).
Add coconut and gently mix into batter.
Pour mixture into prepared pie pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the center is set but still wobbly.
Cool on the counter, then chill in the ‘fridge for at least two hours (better to cool overnight) before serving.
You can use sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes. I used sweetened because I cut the sugar and it’s what I had, but you could use unsweetened with very little difference.
Regular flour works here, too.
The original recipe talks about eliminating the coconut, but I can’t get behind that. If you don’t like coconut, make another pie, ya feel me?
The past six months have felt like one of those days, haven’t they?
It seems like the world has gone utterly mad, leaving many of us standing around, clutching at our chests in shock and wondering what exactly the hell just happened.
Every day, things seem to get more intense. It’s a looming sense of dread, an unidentifiable malaise so that even if things are going okay in most ways, you still feel anxious and crazy and on edge.
If you are a follower of astrology, you might blame Mercury, which seems to always be in retrograde these days.
If you are a follower of psychotherapy, you might blame your parents.
Or maybe it’s the jerk in front of who Doesn’t. Know how. To drive.
Maybe you have turned the fucker off and then back on and it still doesn’t work.
Maybe your kids are assholes, or your spouse.
Or maybe it’s just you.
Some days, for the love of all things (un)holy, you just want something to work, every day, all the time, without thinking about it.
For you, JUST FOR YOU, I present you with the world’s best brownies.
Don’t get me wrong: there are other plenty delicious brownies out there. But these brownies are utterly impossible to ruin. You can’t cook them too long. You can’t undercook them. You can add pretty much anything you want, and they will still be delicious. And they are done in 30 minutes, start to finish.
Two summers ago we had family in town, and I would make a pan of these every night. We are lucky enough to have a soft-serve ice cream man in the neighborhood; we would buy ice cream and eat it with these brownies every. Single. Night. Some nights the ice cream man was late and the brownies cooked longer; others he came a bit earlier and we were forced to eat them still warm and slightly oozy. All agreed that there was no one good way to make that magic happen – all ways were equally delightful.
Chances are good that you have everything you need in your pantry to make them RIGHT NOW.
If your day sucked, if you just need ONE THING TO GO RIGHT, here you go.
You’re welcome, and I love you.
World’s Best Brownies
Note: See recipe notes for adaptations.
½ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350⁰. Grease an 8”x8” glass baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
In a medium bowl, mix together the wet ingredients, whisking until the egg and oil are both completely incorporated.
SIDE NOTE: There are those who would argue that the eggs should be beaten separately until they become pale yellow and drizzle off the whisk in a smooth yellow ribbon before adding the dry ingredients. If you have the patience for this, this beating results in a lighter brownie. If not, simply whisk until egg and oil are smoothly incorporated and proceed.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix completely until there are no lumps. Stir in any additions you choose, then pour into prepared baking dish. Bake at 350⁰ for 22-25 minutes. The center will still be fairly wet, but the edges may begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely before serving.
You can also use regular AP flour. If you are GF and use other GF flour, I cannot guarantee the same results. For best results, please click the link for all-purpose gluten-free flour and check out my very easy recipe. Alternately, if you are in Baltimore city, you can order food from me and add on five pounds of my gluten-free flour, which I will then come deliver to you. I’m just saying.
Vegan? Sub 1/2 cup pumpkin or one mashed banana or 1/2 cup applesauce for the egg. Or get rid of the oil altogether and sub a similar amount of pumpkin, banana, or applesauce. Seriously. It’s really that easy.
Optional add-ins: ½ cup chopped nuts or ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or ½ cup peanut butter or butterscotch or mint chips (or any combination). Dried fruit is also delicious, like ½ cup dried cherries or blueberries.
Cutting back on sugar? Use 1/2 cup of sugar instead of 3/4 cup. Seriously.
I haven’t tried this yet because it seems a bit like gilding the lily, but the next time I make these I am going to throw in some toasted coconut and then frost the cooled brownies with vegan coconut frosting. That frosting, too, is easier than it ought to be: Chill a can of full-fat coconut milk overnight, then remove the solids (save the water for smoothies, or freeze it in cubes and use it to chill juice). Add a wee bit of powdered sugar and whip the hell out of the it with a hand mixer. Frost. #Boom