Put It Down.

So yeah… it has been awhile since I have posted. To be honest, I have had some health challenges for the last two years that have been real game changers for me. We’ve lost some family to cancer, a grandparent to a delightfully ripe old age. Things that can really knock the wind out of your sails.

I still make things from scratch, I still can home-grown or locally-grown veggies, make my own bread and strive toward clean eating for myself and my family. But sometimes we eat at Chipotle, or In and Out Burger. Or we have mac and cheese for dinner. Or takeout pizza.

Sometimes we just can’t do it all. Am I right? Add stressful situations to a busy life, and it becomes more tricky, sticky. Priorities can change daily, suddenly.

At times the world of real food projects are my therapy, sometimes what I do in my kitchen is my #kitchenhappy: capturing an awesome food shot, trying a new recipe, achieving a food goal. Other times life’s demands make it feel more like that 32 oz glass bottle of oil that fell from a seven foot high shelf and exploded all over me and my kitchen floor: just too much to deal with, a real #kitchentastrophe.

I have had to learn both are ok, because if we are being really honest with ourselves, we really can’t do it all. In the world of Pinterest and food blogs a-plenty, it’s easy to start to feel inadequate. Most of us don’t have a team of folks in our kitchens to prep ingredients, plan meals, take awesome pictures and blog about it with panacea-laden delight (and get paid for it!).  Some can do it and do it well. Meanwhile, most of us will sometimes have to put down our wooden spoon, dial for take out and call it good because…well, it’s better that way… for everyone.

I wrote this today to tell you IT IS OK. If you need permission to reassess your #balancepoint: that line between realistic and unrealistic FOR YOU…then I am here to give it to you. Do it for you. That tipping point between doable and crazy is always changing because life does. No victory is too small in the world of real food. Find your small victory today and let everything else go. Finding your victory today means you’ll be more likely to again take up that spoon tomorrow…or next week…or when it feels like the right time. If today you feel like that time will be never, that is ok too. I get it. I really do.

Be kind to yourself. I am reminding myself to do the same.

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Dinner Rush

In addditon to being a busy mom to two great kids I am a photographer. When the hubby messaged me tonight at 5:25 saying he was on his way home, I was still in front of my last photo session.  Dinner wasn’t even on my radar. I sprang into action.  Spinach frittata and “rescue biscuits” to the, er, rescue!

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Now, granted, “frittata” is just a fancy word for eggs cooked in a pan, started on the stove, finished in the oven. And my rescue biscuits are nothing fancy. However, by the time he arrived home (commute time: 10 minutes), I had rescue biscuits going into the oven with the frittata close behind.  I felt like a cross between Julia Childs and Chuck Norris. All four cylinders were banging in my head. I was a kitchen ninja.

The bisuits came out as the frittata was finishing.  Proud of my kitchen prowess, I split open one of my flaky golden wonders and handed half to my husband.

“Experience the wonder!” I said with great fanfare.

I bit into mine just before he.

“Oh the wonderful complex flavors,” I thought and then it hit the back of my tongue. Bitter. VERY BITTER. Metallic. That inedible bitter that no jam could cover up.

I mention it to David…and we both experience the growing bitterness that no water can wash off. It makes you gag.

Without a word I open the trash and all 14 biscuits slide unceremoniously into the trash. Two fall on the floor, as if in poetic irony or salt in the wound.  The rescue biscuits required a rescue batch.

Dumbfounded by the results, I grumble as I retrieve all of my ingredients and the cookbook. And then I see it.

“Baking powder”

Crap. Of course.

And suddenly I remembered that food lab in college: the one with the cranky instructor who called us “the margarine generation”, where we made two chocolate cakes…one with baking powder and one with baking soda (inedible and discolored). My old instructor would have smirked at my rookie mistake.

In my rush to be a Julia Norris of the kitchen, I had used baking soda instead of baking powder. Transforming my rescue biscuits into the stuff of torture devices. The metallic flavor could coerce any Black OPS operative to talk.

By now, the frittata was almost done. I mumble strings of I-should-have-knowns while making it my mission to get them done RIGHT the second time. I was determined not to be defeated. The frittata came out (and was covered with foil) and the rescue biscuits for the rescue biscuits went into the oven. All in record time. And RIGHT.

Baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing.  It changes color of your product AND taste.

Moral: SLOW DOWN.

Rushing can leave you with a mouth full of metal. And NO ninja wants that.

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The yellowed metal biscuits are to the left. The wonderfulness that is rescue biscuits from Marion Cunningham’s Lost Recipes,  to the right.

Sometimes There Are No Words

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A friend was there for me yesterday in a way that only sisterly friends can be. What do you do for people like that when “thank you” doesn’t seem to go deep enough?

A real foodie’s answer: How about sourdough?

I know it is just bread and doesn’t hold a candle to the blessing from my friend.
However, I realized something made with your hands, with flavors fostered only by the fullness of time and nourishing to the body can speak volumes. Sourdough cannot be rushed.  It has to be nurtured and you have to be patient. There is great rewards for the process but it isn’t instant rice. It is an art.  And it is just like that with kindred friends. You know the type: those who bless you with those words from the Lord that sink deep and true, that reduce you to the good kind of tears (as she called them, “liquid prayer”). They are patient with you and love you in the process.

Well needless to say the loaf was imperfect. I referred to it as the “sideways explosion” when it gave its oven spring. But in the food world we market imperfect products as “artisan”. And I realize as I am typing this our lives are quite “artisan” by a masterpiece of God’s design: complex, wonderful, unique but put through quite a process to get there! And boy oh boy, lately I have really felt artisan and very much like a sideways explosion!

So in the end I realize it was a symbolic little gift I left on her step. Imperfect but a product of something wondrous. I choose to believe that for me, she believes that for me already. What else are good friends for but to walk with you in the process, BELIEVE, and show you the goodness beneath the imperfect surface?

I have said before food is more than calories and fat grams. It speaks many things including tradition, heritage, and togetherness.  In the case of this bag, it spoke thankfulness. A gift of imperfection.

Sometimes I feel like Scarecrow

I hadn’t read any of the discussion on this video before I watched it. My husband shared it with me and said only, “You’ll like it.” So I sat down to watch. He usually shares random videos with me. Recently it was a music video of a Czech band from the 70’s that involved a man blowing onto glass and bearded men throwing their arms around which was considered dancing. There was another one about foxes (and what they say). So I expected yet another random video. I was in for a surprise.

Yes. It is an ad for an app game, sponsored by Chipotle. And yes, there is a subtle marketing message in it for Chipotle’s product. But lay that aside and watch the video. What I want to know is how did such a video almost bring me to tears? Was it the music? The scarecrow? The sad cow in the box? I think it was (and usually is with me) the notion of farming and real food and questioning the larger machine. What stuck with me most was resilient Scarecrow, despite the despair he felt over the big manufactured “food” (100% beef-ish”), made a choice to be the change. And it started with one bell pepper, ear of corn. Burrito.

My take home message from this video wasn’t pro-vegan (which is what some people are saying this was about), or pro-Chipotle (although they deserve credit this masterpiece hidden in CGI and game app clothing). It was pro-change. I am constantly reminded every change, no matter how small, is a victory. We not only cannot be afraid to ask the hard questions about the things we take for granted, but also be brave to learn the answers. And when we find the answers are ones we do not like, we become the change we want to see. It matters. If every Scarecrow made a change, what would our food industry look like?

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

A Piece of Happy

My grandmother just gave me her old sugar bowl she used to have on her kitchen counter when I was a kid. (It is the size of a cookie jar and honestly I think that is what it is.) I don’t collect much of anything knick-knackish and this isn’t my style, but the memories around this jar make it precious. It will sit next to my great grandmother’s teapot and eggbeater. #kitchenhappy # vintage

Plum-posium

A local uncertified organic grower had to give away tons of plums yesterday for free. Farmer’s market snafu. My friend Rene drove out to the cold storage where they were giving them away and brought me a case. I have given her the official title of Sugar Plum Fairy. Even though this week alone I have already canned 8 quarts of crushed tomatoes (bumper crop from my father-in-law) and  7.5 pints of lemon cucumber pickles (from my garden, first attempt).

Today it is “plum-posium” time. (My official definition: kitchen symposium of plum goodness. I might just submit that to Wikipedia!) Plum halves canned in a light vanilla bean syrup, some for the dehydrator, some for the crisper, and some for the freezer (peeled and unpeeled for smoothies, crisps or a midwinter jam). I have realized if you dive into summer canning and preserving, one must be ready to roll with the produce you stumble across.

(The kids are currently noshing on fresh halves for breakfast. I love California produce.)

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Crushed Tomatoes

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My daughter’s doll wanted to “Vanna” the pickled lemon cucumbers.

The Vines

It isn’t anything fancy. Garden fresh produce, seasoned rice vinegar, olive oil, cracked pepper and salt. But there is just something about the melding of the Armenian cucumbers, multi-colored tomatoes, and papery-thin onion slices in a delightful puddle of that rice vinegar and oil.

The first time I tasted it was a college summer, sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table on their dusty ranch in the heart of our nation’s raisin country. Those veggies, tended by the weathered farmer hands of my  grandfather, was and still are the best in the world. I can only surmise, on a purely subjective level, flavor has as much to do with farming technique as it does nostalgia.

Three weeks ago,  while taking my grandmother to an appointment, I told her she made that salad the best in the world and it was impossible to reproduce. She just laughed her hearty outloud laugh that I have loved my whole life.

“I just throw it all together,” she said.

From behind the steering wheel, I silently smiled to myself, not surprised. That is how I cook mostly, a good reminder I come by that habit honestly.

Lately I have been again reminded numbered are the days I can sit at their old table in their too-small kitchen and feast. For Time ages not only those tomatoes on the vine, but the wonderfully weathered hands that tend them.  So I savor the salad, as Time seems to have a heavier and heavier hand in seasoning it.

Sometimes a recipe it isn’t about the latest taste fusion or perfect technique. The indelible ones are more about the people who made them. I am thankful for simple “recipes” like these, that will last long after the vines have withered.