About Mom Mom's Apron

For years, I have kept my favorite recipes in a binder so that my family could access them just in case I met an untimely end. I have decided to document my tried and true favorites (and maybe some occasional experimentation) on this blog. I always wear aprons, and my favorite is a dish towel apron which belonged to my beloved grandmother, Mom Mom Dee Dee. Mom Mom was not much of a hostess or entertainer, but when I wear her apron, I feel her spirit with me. The apron is not pretty and has seen better days, but it is the one I still reach for the most. I think there is a metaphor somewhere in there.

Of Madness & Reason: My Trip to Hill Farmstead Brewery

Greetings from Vermont! We are here this week on vacation, and even though we’ve been coming here for seventeen years, this beautiful state still enchants us. We love everything about you, Vermont!

Our friends are here with us this year, and while plotting out our week’s activities, they lobbied hard for a trip to the holy mecca of beer enthusiasts, Hill Farmstead Brewery. I was all set to sit this trip out and indulge in my favorite vacation activities of napping and reading rather than waiting in a long line for super special beer, but they appealed to my blogging sensibilities. They know I’m a sucker for hype and appreciate any hard to obtain food or beverage that inspires religious fervor, and who knows if I will have this opportunity again? So we set out on the 45 mile journey, growler in hand from our other friend who previously made the pilgrimage.

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The trip up to Greensboro, Vermont is every bit as picturesque as one might expect.

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When we finally arrived, the parking lot was pretty full, but we found a spot. The brewery itself is fairly utilitarian and rustic, without flashiness, bells or whistles. I found this refreshing, since they hold a boatload of prestigious awards, including Best Brewer in the World. THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD! Thank God I didn’t sit this trip out. What was I thinking? Their logo comes from the Hill family tavern in the early 1800s, part of a long tradition of providing quality libations.

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As usual, I was a little overwhelmed when faced with a beer choice, but lovely Kristin (pictured above) told me that the Madness and Reason #1 (Nitro) sounded like something I might enjoy: an Imperial Stout base with vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and chipotle.Well, I knew I loved the name, and it certainly sounded interesting, so we gave it a go.

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It’s not often I’m at a loss for words to describe food or beverage, but I was struck dumb. Dumb and in love. This was truly amazing. I needed Kristin to give me words besides sublime, the only word I kept uttering besides, “Yes. More.” Some of Kristin’s words about the sublime Madness and Reason: well-balanced, complex, having it all, sweet-bitter-spicy, rich, velvety, creamy, variegated, 5 star. Yes, more.

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Alas, there was no more. It was not available in a bottle or a growler, only in itty bitty 4 ounce tasting glasses. How disappointing for me!

Fortunately, everyone else managed to find beer that that they liked, and we brought some home. I personally enjoyed the Mary, a German style pilsner. Ed also bought the Arthur (saison) and Clara (grisette). And our friends bought…lots more!

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Before we departed, we got a quick bite to eat at the taco truck parked outside. We tried and enjoyed all three varieties of tacos offered (black bean with fried plantain, beef with crunchy jalapeno, and buffalo chicken). At four dollars a piece, they were the perfect compliment to our beer.

I’m glad I said yes to this journey. While I’ve always enjoyed an above-average beer, I’m just not part of the #beerculture in a way which the true enthusiasts are. However, I am a big fan of family businesses, high quality, limited supplies and true craftsmanship. Madness and Reason provided me with my first transcendental beer experience, and I finally understood why people get all worked up and travel many miles for the perfect beer.  It was definitely worth the trip.

 

 

Dawn’s Delicious Blueberry Lemon Zucchini Bread

Zucchini season is upon us! I made this last year when looking to purge some too-giant-for-a-sidedish zucchinis, the kind where on Monday you stupidly thought, “Still too small; one more day and this will be perfect to pick.” And then you blink and Monday turns to Wednesday and the just-right zucchini morphs into mutant baseball bat zucchini and NOW look what you did? Yeah, those. Don’t throw them out! Make this delicious zucchini bread instead, and you can smugly tell all your friends, “I MEANT to do that.”

Ingredients:

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups sugar

2 cups grated zucchini (one very large or two normal size)

2 lemons, zest only

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup vegetable oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 to 4 cups fresh blueberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans. In large bowl, beat three eggs. Mix in with eggs by hand sugar, oil, grated zucchini, vanilla, and lemon zest. In smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Do not over-mix. Gently add blueberries.

Divide into two 8 x 4 x 2 inch loaf pans, and bake at 350 for about 70 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out cleanly. Beware of over-baking!

 

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Maille Collections les Jardins Secrets des Chefs

Springtime is upon us here in the northeastern United States, and it’s only natural our thoughts turn to love, flowers and…mustard! I was thrilled to learn of the newest gourmet mustard collection by Maille, a trio of garden inspired varieties:

  • Mustard with White Wine, Beet and a Hint of Honey
  • Mustard with Olives and Herbes de Provence
  • Mustard with Carrot and a Hint of Shallot

Maille was kind enough to send me this newest collection to review, and I was more than happy to oblige. Anyone who knows me knows I have a strange obsessive love very strong enthusiasm for Maille mustard. Visiting their mustard shop in Paris was one of the many unexpected pleasures of my trip, and I hoarded every last bit of their chablis mustard from the pump. Then I ferociously hounded every friend visiting Paris for the next few years, begging them to be my mustard mule to bring back another mustard from the pump. Come on, I said. It’s little. Just maybe triple bag it so it doesn’t break all over your luggage, okay? Every single one of them refused. Hmmph.

When Maille opened their New York City store (185 Columbus Avenue at 68th Street), I was overjoyed. Now I was allowed to order their mustard from the tap (legally!), as well as peruse their online shop for any special edition mustard.

The first thing I noticed is how beautifully the trio of mustard is packaged. If you, like me, have a few slightly challenging people to shop for, I propose this as a lovely little hostess or housewarming gift. Look at this gorgeous box!

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They are as delicious as they are beautiful The Maille website has all sorts of creative suggestions which I will share in a moment, but to be perfectly honest, our favorite thing to do with these is to concoct simple vinaigrettes and sauces or to spread directly onto cheese. They each have their own distinct complexity which is interesting  yet not overpowering.

 

Mustard with Carrot and a Hint of Shallot (my personal favorite): Slather on beef before roasting, spread atop of white fish, or swirl into soup. 

Mustard with Olives and Herbes de Provence: A perfect complement to roasted eggplant and cauliflower. Add a spoonful to a refreshing gazpacho, or smear atop grilled lamb chops.

Mustard with White Wine, Beet and a Hint of Honey: For entertaining, serve on crostini with creamy goat cheese and slivered almonds or with whipped ricotta and chopped pistachios. Use as a spread to elevate even a simple turkey sandwich.

If any of these mustards strike your fancy, bear in mind they are available for a limited time only. They can be purchased individually or as a set at the Maille store or ordered at http://www.maille.com until the end of August.

What Remains

My father died eleven days ago. He had been fighting hard for the last year and finally making good progress when suddenly he was brought down quickly by a hospital infection. He was like a cat, my father, always landing on his feet and defying death on several occasions when others counted him out. So while some might say, “Well, he was sick for a year, how shocking really IS this?” I can assure you it is quite shocking to the little girl in me who still thinks her daddy is the strongest man in the world.

We had a complicated relationship. I know that describes 90% of all families, and it was certainly true in our case. But one thing I can say for sure — without going into all of the unpleasantness and complexity of our particular situation — is that I woke up every day of my life knowing I was loved by my father. I woke up knowing that no matter what I needed, he would find a way to provide. I woke up knowing he would always be happy to hear from me, to see me, to help me. So while I cannot dismiss any of the other baggage, at the end of the day, nothing matters now but the love.

I was a good daughter. I know that I was, and people have told me so. But today, I feel full of regret and remorse. I wish I was kinder. I wish I was more patient. I wish I helped with a glad heart. I wish we had some conversations we didn’t have. In short, I wish I did more. I did a lot, but I should have done more. I should have been more compassionate, more forgiving. More like my father.

Anne Lamott wrote in Traveling Mercies I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually. It’s like learning to drive on an old car with a tricky transmission: if you can master shifting gears on that, you can learn to drive anything.

My dad was good at forgiving others and gifted at forgiving himself. He never wallowed. He never beat himself up. He never felt sorry for himself, even though there were many times when no one would have blamed him for doing so. As the Japanese adage goes, fall down seven times, stand up eight. Dad kept standing up until the very end. I am trying to channel him now and brush off the regrets. I know he would have wanted that.

No one loved life more than my father. That possibly explains why he put his body through more than most people would ever dream of in order to live. Here are some things my father loved, in no particular order: The New England Patriots, Wendy’s chili, online dating (years ahead of us on that trend), photography, obscenely well-done hamburgers, weather forecasts (especially those involving snow), The Air Force, Air Force baseball caps, NPR, the beach, the lottery, mountain climbing, good movies and elephants, which are said to bring good luck.

He was an eternal optimist. The last week of his life, we discussed the billion dollar Powerball lottery, and he wanted my sister to buy him tickets. We laughed at my refusal and my hardcore “I earn my money” stance, once again questioning my paternity. He told my mom (his original and favorite ex-wife — oh, there were more), “Don’t worry, Andi, when I win I will take care of you, too.” And there is no doubt in my mind he would have.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” My father made a lot of people feel special and important. He sincerely saw the very best in everyone he met. And he was possibly your biggest fan. He certainly was mine.

Everyone loved my dad. I have lived in this area on and off for 35 years, and I never knew as many people in my community as my dad did in just a few short years living here. When I went to the bank — both branches — everyone there knew my father. No one at the bank ever paid attention to me until they found out I was his daughter. When we would walk through Acme, various clerks would greet him warmly. I’ve spent approximately $50,000 in Acme, and no one there ever greeted ME warmly. Even the cute young salesgirl at the AT&T store knew him and was heartbroken to hear of his illness. He made friends everywhere he went.

The days following my father’s death were difficult ones. As I drove near his house to pick up my son at basketball, I asked my dad for a sign. I told him I was feeling sad and empty without him here on earth, and right at that moment, The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” came on the radio. I can not think of a song that embodies my father’s life more than this. It’s a simple tune which holds all the answers. Love is all you need. I never used to believe that. Sure, love is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. But as I spent my final days with my dad, love was all that was left…not houses or cars or watches or clothes…only love remained in that room, and it was all that we needed in the end.

While my father and I were quite different from each other, I am trying hard to employ more of his trademark warmth and goodness into my life. I will try to forgive people quickly and not hold grudges. I will try to to believe the very best about everyone.  I will try to be optimistic and not waste precious time on needless worry. Finally, I will try to help others and give selflessly and generously with an open heart. I will tell all the people I love that I love them, starting now. I love you. Thanks to all of you who have reached out to me so warmly during these difficult days. My dad would have loved that.

Power Off, Life On

For months I’ve been contemplating a simpler life, one where a trip to the grocery store meant I could get in my car, listen to some songs or NPR, shop without distraction for the food on my list, get back into the car, listen to some more songs, then come home and unpack my groceries in peace. Is that so much to ask?

In my current life, my drive to the store usually includes one to two phone conversations, a check of emails and texts once I’m in the parking lot, quick responses to any emails and texts, a look at my phone notepad for the grocery list, a stop in the cereal aisle to confer via text over cereal preferences, another stop in frozen food to see what email just came in (it could be really important), and then a nice perusal of the holy trinity (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) during my wait to checkout. On the ride home, I will return the missed call from my sister.

We call it multitasking, and sometimes it truly is a lifesaver and completely necessary. Often it is not. My need and desire for constant communication among my friends and loved ones was turning into my undoing. Somewhere along the line, I started to feel resentful of the expectation to respond to everyone and everything ASAP. It’s a little exhausting, and it was beginning to diminish my quality of life.

As a teenager growing up in the dark ages, I loved to pass notes to friends and boyfriends. I know that seems positively Laura Ingalls Wilder, but back in the 80s (1980s, not 1880s), it got the job done quite well. The anticipation of a response was even part of the fun. I could not imagine a future where every very important thought in my head could be instantly transmitted to my intended recipient. What a dream!

Just as I was pondering all of this, I received at text from a friend saying sorry she hasn’t been in touch, but her cell phone was out of commission for a couple weeks, so she couldn’t respond to my last text. She then went on to say how NICE it was, and that was all I needed to hear. I knew I had to make some changes.

In typical fashion, I had big plans for myself. Let’s make this a real experiment, I thought. I will gather some friends and we can record our life-changing observations, and together we will CHANGE THE WORLD! I solicited a group of friends from different parts of the US with different backgrounds, and I proposed that they sign up for one of the two cell phone usage levels detailed below for at least 48 hours:

Level One, AKA Dawn’s Mom: You have a cell phone, but it is turned off. It is a true “emergency only” phone. Unless you get a flat tire or run out of gas or get stranded somewhere, the phone remains OFF for up to one week. You do not check it for any reason unless you are experiencing a true emergency.

Level Two, The Drastic Reduction: You may devote up to thirty minutes a day of being on your phone. You can break it up into three ten minute units, two fifteen minute units or one thirty minute unit.

I received several responses, most which could be summed up best by my friend Bonnie: I feel panicky just thinking about that. Couldn’t I just give you a kidney or something?
Fittingly, she typed that response while on her phone.

I certainly understood everyone’s hesitation about taking a trip back to the early 1990s, but I was still determined to go there myself. I told my husband and kids that they could reach me at work in case of emergency, and with fear and exhilaration, I turned the power off and headed to work.

It was surprisingly pleasant to be at work and only think about work. I knew my friends and family were carrying on with their own lives, but those lives remained a little more mysterious during my work day. It helped knowing, of course, that I could be reached if needed, but that no one would be reaching out unless it was super duper important. There were a few times I mindlessly reached for my phone out of habit, but instead of feeling twitchy, I just repeated my mantra for this experiment: Be where you are.

My poor, battered, overstimulated brain thanked me. You are here, it told me, and your only job is to focus on where you are. Not the school emails, not the texts, not the Instagram pictures of other people living other lives, but right here. Frankly, it felt like a little vacation to not be so easily reachable. It was a very good day.

I allowed myself to power back on for ten minutes as I was leaving work, just in case something important happened, but there was only a message from my husband Ed: I know you’re on blackout, but could you pick up vanilla ice cream on your way home if you see this? As I exited the store with the ice cream, I saw a beautiful pink hot air balloon landing with the sun setting behind it. What a winning picture, I thought, and reached once again for my phone to get the shot (and inevitably post it somewhere for others to admire). But then I stopped. No photos today. I just stood there in the parking lot appreciating the magical beauty of my hometown, feeling lucky and grateful to be right there at that moment, watching a pink balloon land at sunset.

It’s hard to say how my habits will change, but I know they will. With three children in school (one in another state), it’s not realistic for me to go full-on emergency-only mode. It is my responsibility to navigate technology in a way which enhances my life, and I was not doing a very good job. Somewhere there lies a happy medium between the woman who keeps her phone turned off 99% of her life (hi, Mom!) and the woman who wears the phone as an appendage, and I was veering dangerously close to the latter. I plan to continue with my drastic reduction plan several days a week for a while and see where it takes me. One thing I know for sure: the world will continue to turn, with or without me being reachable 24/7. Sooner or later, I will get back to you…perhaps not instantaneously, but in a timely fashion. I promise.

 

 

 

 

No Rain, No Rainbows

For quite some time, my life has been moving along in an orderly, harmonious, predictable fashion, a veritable string of sunny days with only the occasional light shower, but recently that has changed. We have been dealing with my father’s latest battle with cancer. Aside from the obvious concerns for my father (pain, treatment plans and, well, mortality), there are the superficial ones: appointments, insurance, bills, logistics of juggling family and work. I am not the only person my age dealing with these challenges, and I am cognizant that others have much greater burdens to manage. As my father is fond of saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Still, my peaceful, well run, and predictable life which I love and appreciate so much is currently turned on its head, and I selfishly don’t like it one bit.

Hang in there, I tell myself. Just get him through the next round of chemo. Just get through the next platelet transfusion. Just get through the stem-cell transplant. But these things are looming for many months on the horizon. My father is brave and grateful for our help, rarely complaining; a model patient in some ways, a high maintenance patient in other ways. I found myself in the dangerous trap of waiting for this ordeal to be behind us before I could “let” myself be happy and exhale again. This is never a wise strategy.

Happiness is still here, I just need to look a bit harder to find it. It arrives in the most unexpected times and places, but when it arrives, it delights me more than anything would on a normal, peaceful day. It arrives in the form of a casserole from a friend who is the very definition of busy and over-scheduled, yet carved out time to lovingly provide a meal for us. It arrives when I see my father and son watching ESPN together, debating the merits of various players no one else in this family knows. It arrives when I discover that, like me, my father takes his coffee with just milk and prefers angel hair pasta over normal spaghetti and his bacon burnt. It arrives in the form of a foot massage from my husband, who silently rubs my feet while not complaining when Real Housewives of New York is on rather than the highbrow NOVA documentary he would prefer.

My parents have been divorced well over twenty years, but last week my mom prepared a couple of my father’s favorite meals and drove for an hour up here to deliver them. It was my day off, which usually means the day I have to catch up on laundry, shopping, errands, cleaning and various dad-related duties. There is never enough time and lately there has been even less, and while my mom and dad sat in my family room and chatted, I started to finish up some long overdue vacuuming. But then I heard this:

“See Alexis? She had a baby with a mobster, too. Yeah, the one with the dark hair who’s married to the man who has amnesia…”

They were watching General Hospital together, a soap that hasn’t been on my tv since 1984 and which Dad has never watched, but Mom was attempting to fill him in on the last thirty years. Despite their differences, numerous differences, they still care about each other and can usually manage to be civil and supportive, especially when the chips are down. Moments like this fortify me, and I gather them like little pebbles and take them out of my pocket when I need to feel better.

It was another busy day and my last chance to catch up on some gardening for a while, so Dad sat on the front porch while I tended to the pots and flower beds. Then we moved to the deck while I planted my herbs. Finally, we moved down to the patio, where I planted the hot peppers and tomatoes and thinned out the radishes. We chatted the whole time, feeling the warm sun on our faces.

“Today was a good day,” he said. “I liked being outside with you while you planted things.” You’re right, Dad. It was a very good day.

 

New Favorite Pizza Crust

Oh, hello! Long time no cook! Well, that’s not true, exactly. We’ve been cooking, but it’s a lot of the same old standards lately, and I have not really found anything new or worthwhile to share. Until now!

It’s true: I needed another pizza crust recipe like a hole in the head, but the siren song of the NYT Food Section is just too hard to resist sometimes. Don’t do it, my jeans told me. Just walk away and do not look back. Be strong. Pizza is not your friend. But I stupidly bookmarked it, and long story short, I’ve made this now five times. I love, love, love it and now feel compelled to share it with you.

This recipe has definitely earned its place in my archives, and I know if you try it, it will become a favorite. It’s as easy as it is delicious. Let me know what you think!

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Quick Pizza Dough, Recipe by Suzanne Lenzer,
original recipe here

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ¾ cups/390 grams bread flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons/7 grams active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons medium or coarse cornmeal

Preparation

Make the dough:

  1. Put the flour, yeast and salt in a food processor. With the machine running, pour the oil through the feed tube, then add the water in a slow, steady stream. Continue to process for 2 to 3 minutes (the dough should form a rough ball and ride around in the processor). The finished dough should be soft, slightly sticky and elastic. If too dry, add a bit more water; if too wet, a tablespoon or so more flour.
  2. Lay a 12-inch-long piece of plastic wrap on a clean work surface. Work the dough into a rectangle on the plastic, about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Press your fingers into the top of the dough all over, making indentations as though it were a focaccia. Fold the left third of the dough over (as you would a letter) and repeat the indentations. Fold the right third over and make the indentations again. Cover the folded dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes.
  3. Cut the dough in half, form each piece into a neat ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer. The morning before you want to make pizza, transfer the dough to the refrigerator to thaw.

Make the pizza:

  1. Bring the dough to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. Put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 550 degrees. (If you don’t have a stone, oil a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.) Dust a peel or the greased baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Working with the dough in your hands (not flat on a work surface), gently begin to stretch the dough into a circular shape, pressing your fist into the center of the dough and pulling at the edges with your other hand. With both hands, stretch the dough, being careful not to tear it. Working in a circular motion, pull the thicker edges of the dough outward, letting gravity help you. Continue to stretch the dough until it’s relatively even in thickness (the edges will be thicker) and you have the size you want. Carefully lay it on the peel or baking sheet.
  2. Top the pizza as desired and either slide it off the peel and onto your heated stone, or place the baking sheet into the oven. Cook the pizza for 6 to 10 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.

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Peonies Not Included

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. ~Hal Borland

Many years ago, we moved into this house in February, perhaps the ugliest and most dismal month in our part of Pennsylvania. At only twenty-five, I was awfully young to move on to this cul-de-sac filled with families of five and couples approaching retirement. I felt like a kid pretending to be a grown-up, and I relished my new role as lady of the manor.

My first order of business was to purchase flowers, but my husband Ed smartly insisted we wait and see what came up first before just diving in. The real estate literature for this house stated “Peonies not included.” These were the days before Google, and my dictionary was still packed away somewhere. I hoped peonies meant those ugly floral valances found in almost every room. Fine, I thought, please keep them.

I have always loved flowers, but being from city folk, I’ve never been much of a naturally skilled gardener. Everything I’ve learned about gardening was learned from my husband. I’ll admit, I was resistant at first. Dirty fingernails and worms and a sore back? No thank you. Can’t I just pick out the flowers and have someone else plant them? Not when you marry for love, you can’t.

Admittedly, it has taken me years to finally enjoy the manual labor called gardening. I used to feel terribly resentful of all the work involved. Part of it, too, was that I had young children to care for, so gardening was just one more needy thing on my list to feed and water. As my children grew and became more self sufficient, I found that I actually enjoyed the nurturing and somewhat fussy nature of gardening. Funny how we’re always seeking balance but rarely realize it until we look back.

Our first spring and summer here was filled with beautiful discoveries. Every week seemed to bring us new and unexpected presents: crocuses, pansies, daffodils, tulips, irises, roses, wisteria, strawberries, azalea, dogwood, rhododendron and eventually these large, beautiful, snowball-like fragrant flowers called peonies. Now that I knew what peonies were, I was very glad some were inadvertently left behind.

Spring has always been my favorite season, probably because I have a May birthday, and from my earliest days I associated spring with presents for me, me, me! Later on in life I associated spring with cute clothes and sandals, school’s final months, and impending summer vacation. Today spring represents the act of reclaiming and beautifying our yard and moving our Inside Life to Outside Life. Whatever stage of life I was in, springtime represented the rebirth of everything good.

I have had a good life, but it has not always been an easy life. Like many humans, I have suffered heartbreak, illness, loss of loved ones, tyrannical bosses, betrayal, loneliness, uncertainty, worries, unfairness, long lines, incorrect cable bills, and sleepless nights. It’s very easy sometimes to believe the current situation will never change, and we’ll be stuck where we are forever.

It’s no wonder that both Passover and Easter occur in springtime; it’s when the magic happens. Life is dark and dismal and slushy and full of despair, and then one day, the birds and flowers appear again. You know intellectually that things are supposed to eventually tweet and bloom again (because nature) but it still seems impossible some days. Like, maybe this year it will be different? Maybe spring will be canceled or skipped? Silly as it sounds, on those darkest days, a person might believe it possible.

Seeing that first patch of green after a long winter is uplifting and miraculous. If this ground once covered with many inches of snow and ice and dead plants is now alive and growing, then there is hope for us all, even a know-it-all twenty-five year old new homeowner who doesn’t know a peony from a curtain rod. Every year the trees grow taller, the flowers bloom again, and I discover something new to love in this old house of mine.

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Martha’s Sesame Chicken

Martha Stewart and I are in a relationship, and it’s complicated. I first met Martha in 1993, when I received this cookbook shown below as one of my bridal shower gifts. Just look at young Martha with her Dorthy Hamill haircut and Mom Jeans! Still several years away from her world domination, but very confident nonetheless. Martha always seemed to possess a bossy, smug righteousness which I couldn’t help but admire. Back in the day, I wanted to be the Best at Everything, and Martha was just the gal to show me how to get there.

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But I felt like sometimes she…how can I put this?…made things deliberately complicated for no good reason. She didn’t respect my time. She didn’t respect my budget. Sometimes Martha made me cry. And so I might have turned on her once or twice throughout the years. I may have said some unkind things out of anger or frustration. I’m sorry, Martha. I still do admire you!

When my friend Deana shared this recipe, I admit I was hesitant before I even read it. A Martha version of Chinese food? So do I have to brew my own soy sauce first? But, no, Deana insisted it was really quite easy and delicious. Being lazy pressed for time like me, I trusted her and gave it a try.

The real test, of course, was my kids. They are big fans of transfatty, MSG-laden, sodium soaked Chinese restaurant sesame chicken, and this seemed almost healthy in comparison. I chose to use peanut oil for this, but aside from that, I stuck to the recipe exactly as written. And the kids loved it!

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Lighter Sesame Chicken by Martha Stewart
Original Recipe Here

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup brown rice
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed with a garlic press
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch chunks
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into large florets, stems peeled and thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS
Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, and fill with 1 inch water; set aside for broccoli. Cook rice according to package instructions.
Meanwhile, make sauce: In a small bowl, combine honey, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and garlic; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites and cornstarch. Add chicken; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Add half the chicken; cook, turning occasionally, until golden and opaque throughout, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining tablespoon oil and chicken. Return all the chicken to skillet; add reserved sauce and scallions, and toss to coat.
Meanwhile, place saucepan with steamer basket over high heat; bring water to a boil. Add broccoli, and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve sesame chicken with broccoli and rice.

sesamechicken

Ina’s Slow-Roasted Spiced Pork

“Can I take a moment to talk to you about pork?”

“No, seriously, you MUST try my pork. But hurry up before I eat it all myself.”

“Umm, hello, I am still waiting for you to try my pork. Your LIFE WILL BE CHANGED!”

These are things I’ve actually said. I love this recipe so much that I have been accosting friends and coworkers with evangelistic zeal. I just believe in this recipe so much, so of course I want people to tell me how wonderful I am for discovering it  to try it, too. It comes from Ina’s newest cookbook, Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

I only acquired two cookbooks in 2014, and this was one of them. As I was wrapping my own present mid-December, I quickly peeked in the book (Ed’s present to me) and opened up to this recipe. No lie, I have made it six times already in the last month. My children DEMAND it, and that’s the best endorsement I can give.

This is a link to a video of Ina on The Chew along with this recipe. Please note that Ina strongly suggests making this at least once as written, and I’m all for obeying Ina, so click on the link for full instructions. However, I have also done this with boneless pork loin at 300 degrees in the oven for about four hours, and instead of wine, I used beer with good results. Of course, the Ina way is perfection, but the real magic is the rub/marinade/paste which is listed below. I can see no reason why it wouldn’t be crockpot friendly as well, just so you are sure there is ample liquid to avoid burning.

Ina’s Slow Roasted Spiced Pork Paste, to be rubbed on pork and may be refrigerated up to 24 hours
6 cloves garlic
1 large onion, quartered
1 jalapeno pepper, mostly seeded
1/4 cup fresh chopped oregano leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Use a food processor to combine first six ingredients into a paste, then drizzle in vinegar and olive oil and process until smooth. Rub over all sides of pork, and slow cook using method of choice.