Monday, February 15, 2016

anything goes fried rice

I'm watching our tiny baby get a little bigger each day.  And I'm remembering this time last year, before we knew his sex and his health and his disposition.  It was special and still mysterious.  I loved being pregnant.  Even with migraines and killer heartburn.  It was a privilege.  It was snuggly and cozy and magic and a little (lot) scary.  As I've written before, I learned a tremendous amount about letting go and letting this magic little being be himself.

I learned a few other things, too.  Things that help me every day as a working mom and human being (trying to adult, as they say). 

So here we are.  It's winter again, and as I'm writing this we are snowed in with our tiny baby asleep upstairs.  I'm cooking apples on the stove for his first applesauce.  More lessons to learn.  More moments of gratitude.

When I cook for us now, I make an effort to include lots of flavors and textures without a lot of fuss.  Fried rice is a fun way to use a little of everything and get more veggies into the mix. 

If you're frying rice at home, you're likely to have the best results with cold, leftover rice.  Warm rice will absorb too much oil and result in a greasy meal.  But cold rice will hold its shape and get just the right amount of fat and flavor.  In fact, the best outcome comes from leftover white rice from the box of your local takeout place.  This is great news to me.  If you've been a reader for a while, you know that I have a long list of failures cooking rice.  So in this case, a takeout shortcut that actually improves the end product is totally worth it.

It's also important to use a vegetable oil that can withstand high heat.  I use organic sunflower, grapeseed, or a refined high-heat coconut oil.  Save a flavorful sesame oil for adding at the end if you like.  You can also customize the salty flavoring you use here-- traditional soy, gluten-free tamari, or liquid aminos all work nicely.  Be sure to hold back on salt until you taste the rice mixture.  Some of those soy-based products can be very salty.

Start with your cold rice.  Set out everything else you will need on the counter.  Whisk a couple of eggs together, chop scallions, and find your high-heat oil.


Now add anything you want.  My version here is a colorful combination of shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrot slaw mix,  protein-packed edamame, and maybe some leftover pork.  Consider adding bean sprouts, shredded carrots, shredded rotisserie chicken, shrimp or tofu, even some frozen corn or canned pineapple tidbits.  The sky is the limit. Serve yourself a huge, hot bowl with some sriracha and you have the perfect snowed-in meal.

While you consider what's in your freezer that you could add to the fried rice, allow me to share my list of lessons I learned (so far) from pregnancy.  As it turns out, what I learned has very little do with babies and a lot to do with living a better life.

First and foremost, each of us has a light that does not flicker and cannot be extinguished.  Unquestionably.  Illuminated.  It's the truth.  Namaste.

Be patient. I was in such a huge hurry.  Time to slow down.  Time to wait.  Time to breathe. The important things take time.  A year... 10 months... longer.

Be patient with myself.  Lady why on earth do you have to have it all done now?   You'll get there when you get there.  Before I was pregnant, I was busy and punctual, especially in my professional life.  When I was pregnant, I was late all the damn time.  In the car, telling myself, you'll get there when you get there.  And I did.  And it was fine.  I lost my concentration and my memory many times.  And now as a mom I am constantly distracted.  When the baby cries, I glaze over like a zombie and can't complete a sentence.  It's OK.  It's not a contest for sharpness.  Be patient and it will come.  You will get there when you get there.

Always pack snacks.  Good lord, the hunger.  But isn't this a good way to prepare for life generally?  Pack a snack.  It can't hurt and it will be awesome later when you are hungry.

Stay hydrated.  Good habits die hard!  Absolutely essential for every living creature.  And I finally got it (because someone else's health was on the line). Take the extra 2 minutes to fill a water bottle before you leave the house.  Take a few more to refill it a couple of times during the day.  It will make you healthier.

Go to bed early.  Yup.  My husband says having a baby finally got me to go to bed early.  I take the "sleep when your baby sleeps" thing very seriously.  And I am better for it every morning after a good night's sleep.  Without drugs on my side for migraines during pregnancy, a little sleep was the best cure I could get my hands on. 

Get comfortable.  (And sleep on the left side.)  Isn't this a thing?  Well, I couldn't do it before.  I was a full-on stomach sleeper until it was no longer an option.  Buy pants that fit and expensive sheets.  Demand that standing desk at work.  Stretch.  Make yourself comfortable.

Eat more colorfully!  Strive for a rainbow on your plate.  I did it for baby, and now I do it for me.  There is so much more variety in what I eat now.  (Although admittedly I ate enormous amounts of cinnamon toast crunch while pregnant... there's seriously nothing more delicious in this world.  That habit I managed to break, thankfully.)  Get more colors in your diet and you might be surprised by the combinations you love.

Abandon high heels.  Pretty much forever.  With the exception of an occasional dinner out when I will mostly be sitting, then I will put the pretty ones on.  This one is controversial.  But they do sell cute flats, btw. 

Never take mobility for granted.  There was a brief period late in pregnancy when my left hip hurt so much I could hardly walk.  For a couple of weeks I thought maybe it would never be ok again.  I worried about it.  I stretched, and it passed, and since having surgery to bring this baby into the world there have been other things that challenged my mobility.  I am grateful every time I stand up, pick up that baby, and walk across the room without pain.  It could be so much harder.  I try to stretch and keep it on the easy side as long as I can.

Let people help you.  I first wrote, "Let friends help you," then "friends and family."  Yes, those are important, but that's not really it.  When I was pregnant, grocery store clerks and occasionally strangers would offer to help me carry things or open doors or whatever.  Sometimes I said yes.  In life, people will sometimes offer help.  And you should accept it.  Many successful women I know are really bad at this.  But when you need it most, then maybe you learn to let them help you.

...and help them, too.  And when you have the opportunity to offer help, then you should.  Now, when I see a mom on her own and trying to get in the car with all her stuff, I offer help.  Just in case she really really needs it.  It's incredible the generosity that showers on new moms in many cases-- meals to your home, hand-me-down clothes, extra milk storage bags or whatever from friends and family and co-workers and neighbors.  But some days are hard or quiet or isolating or scary for anyone and that extra hand might be what she needed.  If you're uncomfortable reaching out in person, consider donating to causes you believe in.  Extend the hand however you are able.

There's definitely some winter magic in learning to care for another life and respect our own.  It's whatever you need.  Really anything goes.  Snuggle down. The recipe for fried rice follows.

Monday, November 16, 2015

simplest baked chicken

I know what you want.  Actually, it's what we all want.

Easy dinner, right?

My dad used to make baked chicken for us in the winter months and I couldn't appreciate then how easy it was.  But I knew it was tasty and filled us up.  That's what kids want, I guess.

Any grocery store will have split chicken breasts, with the bone in and skin on.  That's all you need.  Find organic if possible.  If the bone-in breasts aren't separately packaged, you can buy the whole chicken cut up (sometimes even cheaper) and save all the other pieces in the freezer to make stock in the crock pot later.  (I like to add carrots to my stock for color, but that's another post for another day.)

When you have the split breasts ready, drizzle with a little oil and get out the kosher salt.  Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Pop those chickens in a roasting pan or baking dish and salt the heck out of them.

It's really important to use the big grains of kosher salt here rather than tiny flecks of table salt that will melt away and disappear.  The kosher salt melts more slowly and not uniformly, meaning the chicken will be constantly bathed in salt while it cooks and the skin will get a little crispy-salty on the outside.  Mmm... are we interested now?  An hour later:  Salty, juicy, tender chicken.  It's like fried without the breading.  I know, nothing is as good as fried chicken, but we're talking about easy, remember?

You can roast some veggies at the same time and dinner will be done.  Easy.  I promise. And the chicken is tasty and moist enough that Kevin doesn't even ask for sauce.  (But a side of marinara can ease the pain for a picky eater if it's too dryyyyyyy.)

Pop in another round and you'll have leftover chicken for chicken salad, quesadillas, or soup later.  This trick also works when (horror of horrors) the grocery store is OUT of rotisserie chicken and that's the centerpiece of your dinner plans and the whole reason you were there.

Sometimes food is fancy and that is fun.  But this blog is for all occasions.  Easy dinner-- even the simplest baked chicken-- can still be delicious.  The recipe follows.

Monday, October 26, 2015

apple pie rugelach crescents

Forgive me for sounding dramatic, but it's no exaggeration to say that my life has changed in the last year. 

I recently started back to work and new routines.  My first weeks as a working mom.  The same, but different.  It feels like walking through a stranger's footprints in the sand.  I can't match them.  My feet are twice as big.  My stride doesn't match these steps.  We will find a new rhythm. 

And it's October?!

The end of October.  Practically the holidays.

I'm thankful to be surrounded by love from friends and family to help us make this transition.  At work, I am buffered by compassion, flexibility, and generous gestures of support.  It's hard to comprehend the office kindness.  At home, Kevin stayed with baby for 2 weeks and my mom will be with him until the end of the year.  Little man will be a bit bigger, stronger before he starts daycare.  My heart can rest a beat.

But still, it's October?!

Practically the holidays.

While I was on maternity leave, I was inspired to put my twist on a traditional recipe for rugelach cookies.  They are a cream cheese dough rolled into crescents and usually filled with a combination of sugar, nuts, and raisins.  And cinnamon.  And sugar.

We love cinnamon sugar in this house.  Especially with apples.  Apple anything this time of year.  So why not apple pie flavors in a cream cheese dough?  I set to it.

Fresh apples would spill over with too much moisture on a delicate dough, so I opted for a combination of dried apples and golden raisins.  These ingredients will keep for weeks in your pantry, too, so there's less worry and hurry about when you can pull the cookies together. 

Apple pie rugelach crescents are filled with comforting holiday flavor in a new form.  They offer a little something different whatever your holiday baking traditions.  But it's the familiar rhythm you know from countless other recipes for filled and stuffed sweets:  Mix, chill, roll, sprinkle and fill, roll, bake.  Best of all, you can make the dough now, freeze it, and sprinkle, roll, and bake as an activity in the colder months.

It's the same, but different.  We are trying a new spin on familiar things.  A new stride this season.  The recipe follows.

Monday, September 28, 2015

kind words and chipotle turkey chili

Take a deep breath in. Let it out.

Do you have a mantra you sometimes say to yourself? Lately I've been repeating, Slow down and open your heart.

Slow down. And open your heart.

About a year ago, after a longer than expected period of dedicated attempts, I got pregnant. I was in the best and healthiest shape of my life and thrilled to begin a 10-month (lifelong?) journey of slowing down, opening my heart, and taking care of myself for the sake of another.

Being pregnant was at once humbling and empowering. In many ways, the growth of this tiny person was out of my control. By design, my thinking and worrying and preparing was largely unnecessary and unwanted negative attention. Take care of yourself and get out of the way, my body said. Rest and give us your love. I was overwhelmed and grateful for the awareness that our little baby was his own wonderful person, growing on his own trajectory. My job was to nurture and love and get out of the way. (And yes, of course, take those prenatal vitamins...)

The most impactful moment of my pregnancy, and one I will never forget, was an early 6-week ultrasound to check on baby's growth. We didn't expect to see a heartbeat so early, but there it was visible on the screen. A tiny, miraculous, flashing grain of rice. His beating heart. I had only known I was pregnant for a week or two and had no time to commit extra resources or worry. And yet here he was, beating and loving away on his own. And for the remainder of the pregnancy, I was continually humbled by how strong that little man was and is.

We delivered our son a few weeks early at 5 lbs 2 oz. He arrived to overjoyed and excited parents with work to do (to gain weight) but with vigor and skills to help show us the way.

The hot early summer gave way to a mild August and we spent hours watching him while he wiggled outside in the humid air. Thousands more hours wrestling to get the hang of feeding, swaddling, burping, lullabies, and other cumbersome acts of new parents.

Weeks later, we are still awkward, but moving slower and more confidently. Baby knows what he needs and we follow his lead.

Finley is a joyful, patient, and curious baby and a gift in our lives. Every day we are enjoying getting to know the person he is and will grow up to be.

A year ago, my mantras helped me begin a new chapter of my life at peace and unafraid. I didn't know what would happen or how I would feel. Is this the right path? Will I ever be a mom? How will I spend these next years of life? I was full of budding hope. These words helped me make room and let go of my fear.

If you're a new parent, a hopeful mom, or seeking to make other big changes in your life, I hope these messages resonate with you. Slow down and open your heart. Take care of yourself and let go. Just add water and sunshine. See what blooms. I am cheering for you.

In the midst of all these changes, I haven't forgotten that (suddenly) it's fall and we need heart-warming, belly-filling recipes to go with these kind words and football weekends. I'm sharing with you my favorite recipe for a spicy turkey chili that is easy to make and tasty. 

Admittedly, it's not gorgeous to photograph.  But please enjoy a warm bowl as part of whatever care you need this season.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

warm butternut squash and cranberry salad

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I hiked a mountain in Colorado.

And I planted some fall vegetables. 

That was a year ago.

We actually only hiked about half-way up the mountain, until our water was running low and we saw enough bear scat to motivate our retreat. 

And the vegetables were just baby seedlings for weeks, peeking out from soil I piled into a raised bed to replace the miserable red clay in the yard.  I had high hopes for the little guys.  The packets of heirloom seeds promised kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, and chioggia beets in 45-90 days.  They grew a bit at first, but our expectations were low for produce.  It was the act of growing that felt important.

I don't have a green thumb.  And we probably won't ever get enough sun while we're tilted away for winter, plus an early frost wiped out the Italian broccoli.  And if I'm realistic, bagged dirt would not be enough to feed them to fruition.  But I learned a lot about gardening and patience.

Really it was the perfect exercise to follow a summer full of promise.  I made efforts to live a healthier lifestyle (sugar is badly addictive), trying new things (acupuncture: kind of cool), visiting new places (Hello Wild West!), avoiding my Facebook feed (so many reasons), and the biggest boldest move for me: I changed jobs. Like one of those pinch-yourself, is-this-really-happening? kind of changes where the stars align and your resume lands on the top of the pile.  My new boss and I agree: it was meant to be.  I left behind marble, mahogany, and male egos for a family-friendly, collaborative environment with yoga classes and M&Ms (so much for the low-sugar diet).  And a shorter commute.  It's a huge step in the right direction to put my money where my mouth is.  In other words, to put my values first.

So it makes sense that this season and this new decade is all about new growth. I can feel the little flower buds on my soul.  To bloom not now, but in spring maybe.  This is going to be good.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I first wrote it a year ago.  And it's true: everything has changed.  My 31st birthday just passed a few weeks ago.  The good things have stuck with me or even returned where they were waning.  We are knee-deep in new adventures.  The year was full of excitement and rest and growth.  More on that soon.

In the midst of all the other changes last year, one of my dear friends and I embarked on daily challenges in the fall: healthful changes and exercise in small doses every day.  Plus a recipe for each week.  One week we were inspired  by Deb's sesame turkey meatballs with smashed chick pea salad (from her fabulous cookbook, of which I am so lucky to have a signed copy when she toured and visited NC for a lovely book signing event).

For another week's recipe challenge, I embraced fall weather with a warm butternut squash salad dotted with walnuts and plump dried cranberries.  It's very French bistro actually. You should try it.  I've included the recipe below.

In the meantime, check out some of the snapshots from the mile-high city.  On our trip in between jobs and for my birthday, we enjoyed an historic hotel, hipster tapas restaurants, good beer, and dusty hikes. Well done, Denver. 

Cheers to the fourth decade... a year late, with lots to celebrate.  The recipe for warm butternut squash and cranberry salad follows.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

slow cooker roasted pork shoulder

Hallelujah.  Pulled pork in the slow cooker.

I know it's not smoked, and there are no cracklins to be had, so I don't claim any Southern miracle, but this basic pork recipe makes a phenomenally easy BBQ plate, taco filling, sandwich stuffer, thai rice bowl feature.  And it is so good. 

There are really three ingredients.  Plus water.  I am serious.

The challenge is to find a good-quality, preferably pasture-raised pork butt that's big enough for everyone to have seconds, thirds, and fourths when you make it.

Every couple of weeks, I notice that Whole Foods offers generously sized, bone-in pork shoulders (also known as a Boston butt).  That's exactly what you are looking for.  If you find it, buy it, and make this.  It's a cheap cut of meat so go big!  Whatever will fit in your slow cooker, which waits patiently for you at home.  I strive for 4-5 pounds, which makes plenty for four with leftovers.

Kevin says he could eat this pork every single night.  We end up eating it about once every couple of weeks because, hooray, I found pork shoulder at the grocery store after yoga.  (I have more time in my schedule these days, which allows for more exercise and less harried shopping, so I'm now that girl I used to hate at Whole Foods in yoga pants.)

And don't be shy about making it your own:  This basic pork can be transformed with some chipotles into a delicious taco filling, a thai rice bowl with veggies and green curry sauce, or an Eastern North Carolina-style sandwich with a white bun and coleslaw.   (You could even go Italian style and serve it alongside potato gnocchi.)

However you sauce it, please enjoy this very special, very easy, almost-Southern classic.  The recipe follows.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

fresh tuna burgers

Do you like surprises?  How about spicy tuna?  (Hello, fellow Shiki Sushi "marry roll" fans!)  I might surprise you with a recipe for fresh tuna burgers.

They are healthy, easy, and quick to prepare.  A little time is all they need in the fridge to firm up before cooking.  Tuna burgers are way more flavorful than plain white fish for dinner and a great alternative to burgers.  

A heads up:  When I prepare these tuna burgers, they aren't cooked all the way through, so it's important to select best-quality, sashimi-grade tuna from your fishmonger.  The fresh tuna should be very cold for easy slicing and chopping for its transformation into tiny cubes formed into patties.  The outside is seared and the inside stays tender and rare.  Sounds strange, tastes out of this world.

And pardon the late-night lighting on these photos.  It gets dark earlier these days, and tuna happens for dinner.  So too the amateur camera work.

I should add credit where credit is due.  Almost everything I know about basic cooking I learned from Food Network in college.  But if you know me, you know I am not a huge fan of Bobby Flay.  I just don't think we'd get along.  (Oh, but his wife is one of my favorite actresses from the glory days of Law & Order: SVU.  More college TV confessions.)  But Bobby's food is nothing short of terrific.

These tuna burgers were inspired by the man himself.  I'm not a sore loser.  Bobby, you got this one really, really right.  The recipe follows.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

roasted tomatillo salsa

Tomatillos are funny little fruits.

They're sour and bright, bright green when they are ripe.  Clothed in papery skins and a sticky residue that will remind you:  these are not green tomatoes.

What are these little guys all about?  Happy to be eaten raw and tangy, tomatillos will bite back.  (Try these yummy tostadas from Cookie + Kate, one of my favorite fellow food bloggers, and you will wonder why you never did before.)

But roasted and caramelized, the color softens and the sourness of these tiny fruits is mellowed to a subtle tang.  Salsa bedfellows onion, garlic, and jalapenos all relax and sweeten up in the oven, too.  It's the recipe for a perfect sweet-tart-spicy salsa.

It's an oven-to-food-processor recipe.  No tiresome seeding and chopping tomatoes for pico de gallo, for example.  This is a smoother, saucier salsa that won't take long to prepare.  It's great with chips or reserved for use in recipes such as chicken enchiladas or breakfast burritos or pork-stuffed poblano peppers.  Are you hungry yet?

Coronas ready?  Chips on hand?  You're half way there.  The recipe for homemade salsa follows.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

lifesaver overnight oatmeal

I've been shouting it from the rooftops everywhere but here:  overnight oatmeal.  It sounds boring and basic, but it's a weekday lifesaver with two basic ingredients.  And, in the crock pot, it's easier than you could possibly imagine.

Maybe I should back up.  I have never been a weekday breakfast eater.  I'm not, my dad isn't, and my grandfather wasn't.  I routinely skip breakfast and I'm not proud of it.  But, because on busy days I sometimes also skip lunch, the situation is untenable.  (Being a human being and all, it's important to eat more than one meal per day.)  I decided breakfast is under my control even when the work day takes over my lunch hour.  Time to change those inherited, bad breakfast habits.

Meanwhile, Pinterest was yelling at me:  overnight oats! crockpot oatmeal!  steel cut is good for youl! make your own almond butter!  I conceded:  it was time to try making oatmeal in the slow cooker overnight.  And eating it for breakfast.

There's something to it after all:  easy, healthful, minimal morning effort.  Minimal effort period.  1 cup oats, 3 1/2 cups of milk and water combo (the ratio and type of milk you use is completely flexible).  Crock pot.  You don't even have to stir.

In the morning, I spoon a heaping serving into a tupperware container and pile on toppings.  It's still warm when I sit down to my desk to check emails and-- finally-- eat breakfast. Of course, you don't have to wait.  If your schedule permits, celebrate the world's easiest breakfast by eating it at your kitchen table with a cup of coffee and your favorite daytime television.  By all means, enjoy!

This simple recipe has changed my daily life completely and so much for the better.  I'm caring for myself, and that's something worth shouting about.  The recipe follows.