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Davis Island Picnic rainbow

Rainy Day Picnic

Hello!  I am so glad to be back; I have really missed being here, chatting with you.  Both of my surgeries went well and I’m about five or six weeks in to physical therapy.  The hip arthroscopy, which I expected to be shattering, was actually the easiest in terms of the surgery itself and the initial home recovery.  My biggest concern was getting home and up the stairs on crutches after being released (hip arthroscopy is a same day surgery around here).  That concern was seriously heightened by the trip home following the ovarian surgery.  I won’t be graphic but. . .so sick, so. many. stairs.  However, amazingly, for the first time ever, I wasn’t even the slightest bit nauseated following the hip surgery!!  That really does deserve gratuitous use of exclamation marks.   The long term lack of mobility and general inability to do for myself have gotten me down a bit at times, but overall it has been so much easier than anticipated.  The last three months have also allowed me to see, yet again, how amazing my family is.  I feel absolutely soaked in love and uncomplaining care.

To celebrate being back on my wobbly pins, and to kick off our twelfth wedding anniversary weekend, I thought I would throw together a Friday night picnic.  We were both going a bit stir crazy being trapped inside all day, so an evening in the out-o-doors sounded just right.  Things didn’t turn out exactly as planned, as you will see, but it was a pretty great night nonetheless.  Scroll down past the video to find links to the inspiration recipes, as well as to see the changes I made.  If you would like to see how the rest of the night went, click over to Jason’s video.

Garlicky Kale Salad with Crispy Chickpeas

Changes I made: zest of 1 lemon added to dressing

Changes I would make next time: the only kale I could find at the shop this time was red kale.  Next time I would definitely hold out for lacinato kale, or switch to spinach or arugula.  I did not have three hours to massage the red kale into submission (the ten minutes I did put in just didn’t cut it)!

Farmer’s Market Cornbread

Sean Brock’s Cornbread Recipe

and, my version. . .

Cornbread before and after

Garden Cornbread

base-

5 Tbs melted, unsalted butter

2 cups of medium grind cornmeal (I used this)

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 C goat’s milk yogurt

1 C almond milk

1 tsp vinegar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 C corn kernels

1/4-1/3 C grated cheese (I used a firm sheep’s milk cheese whose name I do not know, but you could use just about anything you find tasty)

toppings-

1 pint (more or less) cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 red onion, sliced

basil, chiffonade (fancy way of cutting up; do what you want)

crumbling cheese (I used some cojita that was hanging out in the fridge)

directions-

  • heat cast iron skillet in 450 degree oven while preparing ingredients
  • combine dry “base” ingredients in medium bowl
  • combine wet “base” ingredients, stir into dry mix
  • add shredded cheese and corn kernels, stir until evenly distributed
  • removed skillet from oven, place on burner over medium heat (you will definitely want to turn on your fan)
  • pour base batter into pan, sprinkle with toppings
  • turn off burner
  • return skillet to oven, cook for 20 minutes
  • check for color (you are looking for a golden brown; the edges of your cheese will be picking up some color as well.
  • eat lots!

Davis Island Picnic plate

 

 

Life Lately

This is my fourth attempt at writing this post.  The first two were totally devoid of information or emotional connection, while the last one was terribly earnest and solemn; let’s see what happens this time.

Hi!  I’ve missed being here.  I’ve not felt much like sharing over the last few months.  I got some frustrating news and needed time to process it before I could talk about it in a reasonable way.  Way back in November, Jason and I set out on a little exploration walk that turned into a 9 mile trek.  I know that isn’t a crazy distance, which is why I was surprised to start limping at mile 7 and mortified to have Jason run home for the car to drive me the final half mile home.   I tried resting it, but when I was still limping in January I went to a doctor.  Very long story short:  I’ve torn the labrum in my left hip.  Turns out I actually have a deformity of the femoral bone head, leading to something called femoral acetabular impingement.  Basically, the bone is a bit larger than the socket space allowed for it, and the resulting friction is tearing the squishy labrum and chipping the hip bone socket (or acetabulum).   After two months of physical therapy and no improvement, we decided on surgery.  I had a pre-surgery MRI done, and, **surprise**, found out that I have a dermoid cyst in my right ovary.

I’ve not spoken of it here before, other than a brief, non-specific mention of a second surgery on the About O.i.H page, but in 2007 I had surgery to remove a dermoid cyst from my left ovary.  Well, in about 10-15% of cases, dermoid cysts are bi-lateral, meaning they will develop in both ovaries.  Hooray for winning the percentage lottery!

Anyway, hip surgery discussion was put on hold until I could get an assessment of the cyst, and what sort of response that required.  Skipping over all the minutiae, the big picture is this- the cyst is small, but will need to be removed.  We were originally thinking laparoscopy,  but it turns out the cyst is in the exact center of the ovary, so the surgery of choice (or at least of recommendation) is a mini laparotomy.  I’ll have that surgery at the end of May, and the hip arthroscopy  mid-June!

From time to time the thought of the hip surgery makes me panic just a smidge.  I mean, it is technically an elective surgery for a condition that many people go their whole lives just putting up with.  Whereas I, for many reasons, am choosing to have this surgery that is going to put me on crutches for 4 to 6 weeks at a time when. . .well, I just have to keep asking myself, is there ever a convenient time for that?

In other news, things are getting exciting in Jason’s business.  He is set to give his first week long class the first week of June.  Yes, the timing could be better, but we are so thankful and excited to see how things are developing. Our house has been looking like we robbed a Radio Shack as we are compiling all the necessary equipment for classes. pelican cases telephones mantle

 

Now that I’ve gotten started, there is actually more I want to talk about :).  However, seeing as this is already a brutally long post, I’m going to say sayonara for now.  Hopefully I’ll be back in the next few days with a look at the cookbook we are pretty much living out of at the moment, and maybe some thoughts on getting ready for surgeries if anyone is interested.  Till then. . .

 

ready to freeze and enjoy all winter

Scenes from My Week or These Pies are not Gluten Free

Holy moly, I bit off very nearly more than I can chew.  On Saturday, Jason and I made our yearly pilgrimage to Hollabaugh Bros. for apple “picking” (can you be said to have picked them if you selected them from a bin?)  Despite some cold, wet, gloomy weather and some changes we found at the farm, it was a great day.  We came away with 101 apples and three handfuls of pears!  Good grief.  The plan was to make apple butter for canning, apple pies for freezing, baked apples for breakfast, and maybe cider if I got terribly ambitious.  Unfortunately, getting the apples coincided with the start of a very labor intensive project (more on that soon).  So for the last three days I have been up to my eyes in pies and the smell of slow simmering apple butter has filled our house. . .and I have been completely overwhelmed.  I’ve been brooding in black like some apple angst-ing, pie baking Hamlet: Alas, poor York!  I knew him. . .  (Wah, wah.  York,Yorick, get it?  Sorry, a little apple humor!) applescale applechunk appleevolution

However, this morning I rolled out my last pie top, and processed a dozen jars-o-jam. . .butter.  Cider is not going to happen.  I have learned my limits people.  For the last several months I feel like I have been taking on what seemed to be perfectly reasonable projects that turn out, for one reason or another (usually my own dreadful inefficiency), to be absolute monsters!

Speaking of monsters, let’s talk about these pies.  Pie making is actually therapeutic for me.  Despite the fact that I will not savor even a single bit of the finished product, I love every part of the process.  I make the dough, an all butter dough, by hand, because I like to control the final texture exactly.  I peel, core, slice and season the apples, and until this batch, I even layered in each slice in spirals to get the most densely packed, fall proof pies possible.  Control freak, right here!  Well, that hand layering didn’t happen this year. . .did I mention I was feeling overwhelmed–curse you, apple butter!  As we speak there are 18 cup pies and half a dozen mini pies residing in my freezer, right on top of my massive stockpile of tomato soup :).  I would love to be able to tell you that the pie recipe is original to me, but credit must be given where it is due.  The dough and the filling are Martha Stewart’s.  I have used these recipes for eight years now and for a stellar, let-your-apples-shine pie, I know none better. pie1 pie2 pie3 cuppieduo

My tips:

1. freeze/chill your butter, your bowls, your water. . .everything that will touch the dough that can possibly be frozen or chilled.

2.  Don’t try to do pie dough in a hot room; you will regret it.

3.  Kitchen scissors are your friend for cutting clean edges.

4.  It is almost impossible to flour your rolling pin too much.

5.  Save those dough scraps.  They roll out just as well the second (or third) time.

So now that the apples are down to a manageable quantity, I am going to focus on my one little (big) project, getting ready for the Marine Corps birthday and its accompanying cake, and on getting my home ready for holiday guests (yes, it is taking us a long time to transition from being a one bdrm household to a two bdrm, but we are getting there)!  I hope you all have had a marvelous weekend/week.  Any of you take on any crazy projects lately?  I’d love to hear about them! minipie

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Stave Off Winter’s Fury

It may seem odd to be thinking about winter here in the dog days of summer, but I suggest this is the exact right moment for it (and I have thousand of years of history to back me up on this).  If there is one thing that Jason and I have learned in our nearly ten years of living in NoVa, it is that we do not do winter well.  As children of the hot southern sun come late in life to the realities of cold, we have not adapted easily.  I know, I know, the idea of Virginia’s winter is laughable to some of you, but let me make my case.  If you live in a truly cold place you at least have the benefit of a usable cold (ice skating, snow, sledding, snow. . .lots and lots of snow :) ).  Here, it is just nasty: wet, cold, dirty, slushy.  I digress.

Well, this year I finally had the opportunity to bottle up a little summer comfort to see us through the Dark Days.  Last year, you may remember, we spent the majority of the summer traveling or recovering from travel (see Australia).  One of our favorite things to have in the winter is tomato soup (this one, right here), but the canned stuff just isn’t any good (and usually isn’t any good for you), and winter tomatoes are almost as depressing as soggy turnips; we won’t even talk about how much they cost.  So two weekends ago I scrambled down to our neighborhood farmer’s market and came home with 20 (yes, TWENTY) pounds of tomatoes, an humongous bunch of basil, and a pioneering spirit!  This is how I spent my day: DSC_0062

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DSC_0098   DSC_0091

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Roughly eight hours later I had thirteen beautiful quart jars of soupy goodness ready to go in the freezer (I don’t have a pressure canner, so this is my only option) and a little store of lessons learned:

1. 10-15 pounds might really be my comfort zone. . .twenty verges on the absurd

2.  Get an immersion blender. . .no, really, just do it

3.  Food processors and blenders fail epic-ly with hot liquids in large quantity

4.  Do yourself a favor and sit down to process the tomatoes, or get a gel mat. . .or prepare for pain :)

5.  Peeling garlic in these quantities can burn your fingers every bit as badly as cutting up chiles–beware!

If you want to do something crazy like this yourself, here’s what you’ll need:

  • white vinegar
  • lots of water
  • large sink or bowls
  • 20 lbs. tomatoes
  • 5-6 heads garlic
  • 6 large white or yellow onions
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 quarts chicken or veg. stock
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 24 TBS (!) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tightly packed cups basil leaves
  • 2-3 very large stock pots (8 quarts or larger. . .larger)
  • roasting pans
  • parchment paper
  • a big dang spoon
  • immersion blender (trust me)
  • 12-14 freezer-safe quart jars (depending on how full you want them) or an equivalent volume of quarts and pints

Fill sink or bowls with cold water and a cup of vinegar (for the whole quantity of tomatoes).  Soak tomatoes in water for at least 10 minutes.  Clean, remove any bad spots, and transfer to kitchen towels to dry.  Prepare the soup with this recipe.  Wash jars in dishwasher on sanitize setting.  Place lids and rings in bowl and cover with boiling water.  Fill clean jars with soup (leaving at least a 1/2 space at the top), screw dried lids on loosely.  Allow to cool on counter for no more than two hours.  Place in freeze and pat yourself on your sweet, tired back!

sauced

Hot Wings and the State of Things

Hello again.  It has been awhile, but this time I make no apologies.  We have been busy: working, nesting, living, grieving.  We are now firmly planted in our new apartment, and loving it more every day.  We’ve built bookshelves, sold furniture, scouted Craigslist in vain for a sofa small enough to fit up the staircase, enjoyed evening strolls around the neighborhood, and Saturday mornings at the farmers market.  We lost a very dear friend to the darkness of PTSD. In the aftermath we have spent time enjoying one another, making the most of every moment we are blessed to have together.  We have been reminded to appreciate our friends and family, and to invest in those relationships more intentionally.

The transition from winter to warmth, combined with the hectic and the sad, has brought inventive cooking to a standstill.  I have again fallen back to the well known, the easy to produce, comfortable in familiarity.  Though it isn’t earth shattering, I thought I would take a moment to share one of those easy everyday recipes with you, something you can throw together when all you really want is time to enjoy the people around you, while providing a good meal.

sauced

I served these wings with Toasted Millet Salad with Arugula, Quick Pickled Onion and Goat Cheese by Sara Forte as seen at My New Roots

If you are already familiar with processing chicken wings, feel free to skip down to the recipe.  For the rest of you, we are venturing back into the somewhat scary territory of poultry here, but stay with me.  In this post about Herbes de Provence Roasted Chicken we addressed some of the concerns sometimes felt about working with meat and poultry.  If you are new to cooking meat, wings can be far less daunting than a whole bird.  Many stores offer the wings already cut up into two segments, and if time or knife skills are a concern, go for these.  But the whole wings are really easy to process and usually a good bit less expensive.  Here’s what you do:

First, find the joint between the lower wing and the wing tip (the pointy bit with no meat on it).  Find the point where the joint flexes and cut in between.  It may take a few tries, but you will know you’ve found the right angle when the knife doesn’t meet much bone resistance.  Now, same with the upper wing and lower wing.  Flex the joint between the two.  Start cutting through the flap of skin, aiming down toward the knob at the bottom of the upper wing (the part that looks like a miniature drum stick).  Once you’ve gotten there, you will see the elbow joint, a rounded white knuckle of bone.  Cut under that.  Now, practice!  Heck, if you don’t get it right with the first full batch (or five), the things are still edible.  Just make sure you don’t have any little bone fragments attached to your cut pieces.  Rinse, if necessary, and pat dry.

rawwings

bakedwings

wings

Hot Wings

Ingredients

garlic powder

cayenne pepper

olive oil

chicken wings (I made about 20 full wings here)

butter

hot sauce (like Franks, Red Hot, etc.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425.

Line large baking pan with parchment; do not use foil because the meat will stick and tear.  Dust prepared wings with cayenne and garlic powder.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Turn oven down to 375; bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Check for doneness (no pink).

Meanwhile place 1/2 cup hot sauce and 1.5 tablespoons of butter in a large pan.  Heat over low to melt butter and combine.  Remove wings from oven and transfer to pan.  Toss (or carefully turn) in sauce to coat.  Heat until sauce is slightly thickened and wings are fully coated.  Serve with lots of napkins!

I’d love to know: What is your favorite meal to share with family and friends?  Tell us about it in the comments below.