Monthly Archives: March 2013

WILT #28, in which I lacquer on

Ever since I was a little kid, transition was a challenge for me. My mom tells me about bringing me home from preschool and putting me in my room to play quietly for a while. She knew even then that I needed extra time to decompress from the bustling activity of a classroom full of newly-socialized 4-year-olds and Playskool toys and chubby crayons.

Sometimes, as an adult, it’s easy to forgo that essential decompression phase during a time of adjustment. Sometimes, even a really positive change (*ahem* new job with no commute *AHEM*) can trial one’s equanimity. It might just be where I live right now.

springy

So today, I am going to paint my nails.

Back in college, I shadowed a very sassy neurologist who kept a little vinyl bag in her desk. It was her emergency baggie, she said. In it, she had a few sachets of Black Cherry Berry tea (yech), a tube of crimson lipstick, and a bottle of sheer shimmery pink nail polish. If the day was really going to hell, she could throw on a coat of polish or a swipe of the lipstick and through some mystical femme magic, strike an emotional reset button.

ooh that one's sparkly

I don’t mean to take something so purely whimsical to such a rational place, but listen: it’s grounding to look at your fingertips and see a color that you chose, that you made time to lacquer on. It’s a reminder that you have a little little tiny power over a little tiny thing–little and tiny, yes, but you see it every waking moment of your day.

And it’s cute, dammit.

yes. the gold stars and the purple.

Painting my fingernails provides some (perhaps false, but still effective) sense of control over my life, and reminds me to take things lightly. Whimsy is an essential co-factor in the synthesis of resilience.

awwww <3 <3 <3

Now, if I could just pick a color…

don’t think about it too hard

So you know how I really love slow-made home-cooked beans and think that it’s nice to take your time and make your own stock and your own liqueur and your own salsa and everything?

Well. Sometimes you just want to bring a pile of tasty food together and neither work nor think too hard to do it.

Enter the loaded baked sweet potato.

It’s embarrassing how easy and delicious this meal is. And it’s so good, you can even feed it to company. It’s fun to set out all the little fixins in little dishes. I like setting fixins out in little dishes.

Go buy

  • 1 large sweet potato per diner
  • your favorite kind of bacon, buying at least 6 slices for two people (general rule: buy as many slices as you think you’ll need and then buy two more)
  • an avocado
  • sour cream
  • fresh salsa–pico de gallo or another refreshing sort found in the refrigerated aisle, if you don’t have something homemade in your fridge (and if you don’t, it’s really easy to make, but that’s something for another blog post)
  • cilantro
  • chives (it is a baked potato, after all)
  • red onion
  • corn chips
  • cheese of choice for shredding (or, for the ultimate shortcut, shredded cheese)
  • a lime
  • hot sauce of choice
  • 1-2 cans fat free refried beans. CANS. It’s okay. I promise. Nobody else has to know. But we do tend to tell everyone we feed them to–we seem to maintain a full disclosure kitchen policy. Our favorite has become Rosarita Fat Free Traditional. The commercial says they’re authentic, anyway. (Oh man, that commercial is so wrong. Aaaand I can’t stop laughing at it.) This, however, is what happens when you empty the can:

I swear to god.

Laugh. And then stick tortilla chips into the bean monolith and enjoy. Don’t think about this one too hard.

Stick the potatoes in the oven and get that bacon cooking using your favorite method fifteen or twenty minutes later. We like to array the bacon on a cooling rack that fits inside a rimmed baking sheet–the fat that doesn’t render becomes airy and light and smoky, somehow, when it’s baked. Putting the bacon on a rack tends to result in quicker cooking times.

For us, the bacon usually takes about 25-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. The sweet potatoes take more like 45 minutes to an hour. Definitely get those going the minute you get home. Note that you can’t really bake a sweet potato incorrectly, or for too long. Lately, I stab them a few times with a knife to let steam release, rub a thin film of grapeseed/canola/high heat oil on them (half teaspoon each potato, maybe), and lightly dust them with salt. I bake them uncovered in a glass baking dish. But you can also put them un-lubed in any kind of baking dish you have. Or wrap them in tin foil and throw them directly on the oven rack. Or microwave them. Just make sure you stab them first. Especially if you put them in the microwave–otherwise they light on fire.

My dad did this once when I was 5. I saw flames in the microwave and ran to the basement to find him. The smoke alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but there was fire in my house and that was scary, so I chased him down and asked him if I should stop, drop, and roll. I can imagine his take on the conversation: “Whatever for?” Well, Dad, because there’s a pretty blue flame emanating from your potato in the microwave, and Mrs. Lange said to stop, drop, and roll if there was fire on you.

And that is why you always stab your potatoes.

Pretty much everything else is assembly. Heat up the beans. Chop the chives. Cube the avocado. Coarsely chop the bacon. Put things in pretty little bowls if you want, or just stick a spoon in the damn sour cream container.

Topping the potato is fun. I like to put the beans on my potato first, followed by sour cream and chives and cilantro and then salsa and hot sauce and bacon and avocado on top. Jesse likes a small amount of beans directly on his potato and then a lot of beans on the side, with chips.

loaded goodness

But you see how this is post is more about an idea than an actual recipe or meal plan? Like, basically, if you know how to make bacon and a potato, you could have just stopped reading when I suggested the concept of the loaded baked sweet potato. Which I’m sure is not something I came up with originally, or first, or whatever.

What this post boils down to, pretty much, is that sweet potatoes stuffed with bacon and things are good, and that it’s okay to eat fat free canned refried beans.

But wait–let me just tell you one more thing. You now probably have a few little containers of leftover fixins. Some extra chopped cilantro, some salsa, some onion, and maybe even some bacon and avocodo… BEST OMELET EVER the next morning.

like omg best omelet

But don’t just take my word for it. Go to the store.

goodbye dollies

Yesterday was my last day at a particularly wonderful hospital with particularly wonderful people. I left because of the less-than-wonderful commute. I get 6 hours of my life back per week now. I’ll be working at a hospital that I could see from my bedroom window, were there a forest fire.

That’s hyperbole, but just barely.

So I brought in a treat for each of my last three shifts. I have been informed that I really nailed it with the treats I brought in yesterday, so I’m going to tell you about them.

I don’t do a lot of baking–I’m by no means a bad baker, but sometimes I just choose the wrong recipe or sub in the wrong gluten-free flour, and I end up haunted by some funny aftertaste. This time, I wanted there to be no potential for misunderstanding: these treats needed to say “I like you guys and am going to miss you so much that I want to give you diabetes.” So a treat that I could assemble from ingredients that already were delicious on their own was the way to go.

Enter the Hello Dolly.

The song was stuck in my head. That’s why I thought of them. It’s a little ironic. “Dolly will never go away again!” goes the lyric.

JUST KIDDING! DOLLY AIN’T NEVER COMIN’ BACK!

Anyway. The bars. Inspiration came from these two, and then I made them my own a little bit. Here we go:

Goodbye Dollies

Ingredients

  • 3 cups coarsely crushed GF cookies–I used a cup of Mi-Del Oreo knockoffs, a cup of Pamela’s Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies, and a cup of homemade gingersnaps that I found in the back of the freezer. Mi-Del gingersnaps would work here, too. Yes, you just spent $15 on GF cookies. I didn’t say this was cheap. Your coworkers are worth it, and you’ll have some left over. It’s your last day. (To crush, I threw whole cookies in a plastic bag and wailed on them with the bottom of a saucepan for a while.)
  • 1.25 cups of softened butter (don’t cry)
  • 1 12 oz bag chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz bag white chocolate chips (mine was actually 11 ounces and it didn’t matter)
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, almonds, peanuts, or other tasty nuts (or a mix!!), roasted–roasted and salted would be AWESOME
  • 2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk

Instructions

Grease a 9×13 baking pan. Line it with two strips of parchment paper and let the ends hang over the sides. Grease the paper, too. Cooking spray is fine for this. Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix the crushed cookies with the softened butter in a large bowl. Spread this mixture on the bottom of the baking pan–it’s your base layer. Cover every square millimeter or you’ll have a hell of a time getting these off the parchment.

Next, throw down all the chocolate chips. Then the white chocolate chips. Then the coconut. Then the nuts.

THEN, POUR BOTH CANS OF SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK EVENLY ALL OVER THE TOP.

Pop the pan into the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sweetened condensed milk is bubbling and caramelizing all over. While you’re waiting, score yourself some insulin.

Here’s the hard part: bring the pan out of the oven and let the whole mess cool COMPLETELY. Trying to cut this slab into bars before it’s completely cool will result in molten ooze and the stickiest mess you can imagine. After the mass had mostly cooled, Jesse helped me pull it out of the pan using the parchment paper overhangs and placed the beast on a cooling rack, which I managed to fit into the refrigerator. After 45 minutes or so, the mega-bar had cooled enough that we could cut into it just enough to test a corner, but it still wasn’t cool enough to cut into squares. I left it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it was ready.

thing of beauty

I cut the treats into squares and replaced the whole mess (minus several for Jesse) into the pan. Discussing it with my coworkers later, I realized that this is technically a “no-sugar-added” dessert. Very wholesome.

layers of goodness

As for my last day? It was pretty sweet, too. Everyone was very, very nice to me. I had relatively stable patients. Nothing terrible happened. I had time to say goodbye. I have lots and lots of gratitude.

It’ll take a while to sink in. Change always does, for me.

I might need to make another batch.

when life gives you lemons, go buy a shitload of everclear

My mother-in-law knows how to party.

c dawg

She keeps the wine glasses full and the cheese plate brimming. She is generous with her warmth, her conversation, her home-grown tomatoes in summer and rosemary in winter.

Cheryl’s birthday is in late January, and by some miracle of grace I managed to consider this fact back in early December when we were also trying to concoct a Christmas present for her. Now, everyone but Cheryl will tell you that she’s hard to buy for. “I’m easy!” she says. “I like everything!”

Right. Exactly.

We had just been over to the in-laws’ for dinner. Cheryl followed the meal with a moderate offering of her favorite liqueur (and possibly her favorite liquid), limoncello. Cheryl tells the story of her first encounter with the stuff: following a sumptuous meal in Italy, the server brought over little tiny glasses of an icy cold, screaming yellow drink. “We didn’t order this,” she and my pa-in-law humbly protested. “It’s included with the meal,” explained the server. And she took a sip and her socks blasted off her feet through the front of her shoes. She was in love–silly girly “Call Me Maybe” love.

So I decided to see if I could make some for her. I’m glad I started looking into this back in December because while it’s easy as pie to make at home, it does take about 5-6 weeks.

First, go buy 18 organic lemons. Or a lot of them. If they’re huge, buy 14. If they’re tiny, buy more. If I were really helpful, I’d be able to tell you how many pounds of lemons to buy but I just can’t. And I’m starting to think it’s not that important, because it doesn’t really seem like you can have too many lemons, only too few. What about Meyer lemons, you may ask? You can go that route, but be ready for some extra headache when peeling them because their skins are much thinner than their conventional counterparts. I went with your average organic lemon and have no regrets.

Now go to the liquor store and ask for 2 750 ml bottles of Everclear. You have to ask for it: envision innocent little me walking into a liquor store and looking around for a while, walking up to the counter with a perplexed look on my face when I couldn’t seem to find this iconic alcohol. See me ask the bleach-blonde clerk where they kept their Everclear. Imagine her wrist-flick-hair-toss and her “Ohmygod. We keep that stuff back here, sweetheart.”

IMG_2371

Some people do this with vodka (Giada de Laurentiis, I’m looking at you), but we don’t screw around.

Wash your lemons. Now, with a sharp paring knife and a lot of patience, you need to peel them all. Carefully. You want to avoid the white part of the peel (the pith) entirely; you ONLY want the bright yellow stuff that in other applications is zested. The pith is bitter. We don’t want a pithy limoncello. 

I did all my lemons in one go, but I imagine you could take your time and stick the lot in the fridge for a while if your hand cramps up. (Your fridge would smell great.) I brought out my mandoline slicer, put the blade at a very thin setting, and managed to speed up my process. By the 18th lemon I was getting so good at it that I was pulling off the zest in one long zest-slinky.

Stuff your peels into one half-gallon Mason jar (you’ll ultimately need two of these for this recipe)–you can find these at your local hardware or grocery store with a canning section. You could use pretty much any glass container with a well-sealing lid. Pour in both bottles of Everclear, cap tightly, and shake. Stick this gorgeous jar out of sight in a cool dark place. Back of the pantry worked for me. Back of a cupboard away from the stove would work, too.

IMG_2373

Now you have 18 naked lemons. Give your poor lemony hands a break and then juice your fruit. Put the juice in freezer bags or ice cube trays and stick them in the freezer. Feel smug about the immense quantity of high-quality lemon juice you now have at the ready for numerous sweet and savory flavor-boosting applications.

Every day or two for the next 2-3 weeks, say hello to your jar of limoncello-to-be. Pick it up lovingly and then shake the hell out of it.

After the appropriate time has elapsed, bring out the jar. Measure out 6 cups of white granulated sugar (no fancy turbinado or coconut palm shit for this application). Pour 5.5 cups water into a large saucepan and bring it up a to a boil. Slowly pour in the sugar, stirring with a whisk as you go to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once it’s dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

If your saucepan is big enough to accommodate your simple syrup and all the liquid from your Mason jar, great: set a strainer over your saucepan and dump the contents of the Mason jar into it. Let the peels drip drip drip and then set them aside–well, really, you’re going to be discarding them, but first you should have the opportunity to marvel at their neon yellow color and dessicated near-crystalline crispiness.

Also, how cool is it that you started out with two thin clear liquids and you ended up with a thick opaque one?!

Okay. Stir your limoncello and pour it into your two big Mason jars. Pop these back into their safe dark cool place for another 3 weeks and agitate the jars every day or so.

When your time is up, bring out the limoncello and pour it into pretty glass bottles with a rubber seal.

uh-oh.

Store the limoncello in the freezer (the alcohol content is far too high for this stuff to even consider freezing) and serve it icy cold and often–straight, or in your margarita, or a dash in your champagne, or on your vanilla ice cream.

uh-oh.

This recipe made enough for me to give Cheryl about two thirds (maybe even three quarters) of a gallon of limoncello. This may be my favorite gift-giving experience to date. I gave Cheryl her limoncello at her birthday dinner, out at an incredibly accommodating restaurant in NW. Can I tell you? I don’t want the manager to get in trouble, because when I asked him if I could whip it out so she could taste it–an unorthodox request to begin with–he dragged me over to the bar to let me choose which of their 6 different kinds of glasses would be best.

pretty presentation. THANK YOU, southland!

(The restaurant was Southland Whiskey Kitchen, and it’s exactly what Portland has needed since we got here. Amazing.) He gave us glasses for everyone, with one of their giant fancy ice cubes in each since the limoncello had been sitting out at room temp for a while.

So what did Cheryl think? Her face says it all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.