Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Interesting Turn of Events: An Intro to PantsJuice

The Setting: Imprinting a permanent impression of my derriere into the leather of the love-seat.

The Soundtrack: Colin Firth and Rupert Everett in The Importance of Being Earnest.

On the Stovetop: Generic brand mac 'n' cheese from a box. Marginally edible.

The Scenario: A required day of rest. Doctor's orders.

Shortly after Hoosband's parents returned home from their visit, we received some interesting news, which made the casual drinking and reckless consumption of undercooked meat, unpasteurized cheese, ceviche, sushi, and raw oysters of the previous week seem like a much worse idea in retrospect.

It took all three plus signs from the CVS-brand multi-pack for Hoosband to be fully convinced of the legitimacy of the situation, but by the time the last symbol surfaced in its little viewing window, we were imagining looking at something much cuter through a viewing window of a different sort in approximately nine months.

The first few weeks were a lot of eating extremely healthfully, wondering when to tell people, and wondering how to tell people, considering our closest friends and family were all several hundred miles north.

We contemplated waiting until the second trimester when the chance of miscarriage would be greatly reduced, or waiting until Christmas, when we might be able to include a snapshot of our little in-utero gummy bear along with our holiday tidings, but my dad would be visiting in a couple weeks, and the chances of making it through an entire dinner without my dad uncovering our secret were definitely in the "do not make this bet" category.

We told the rest of our immediate family over the phone right before dinner with my dad and waited to tell him in person. He guessed right away, allegedly because I looked so radiant.

I wish I could say I felt radiant.

The following week was full of cramping, which ended in favor of nausea, which took on the roommate of heartburn, which brings us up to recent events.

Let's just say work has been less than enjoyable. Thinking about food has my gag reflex on high-alert, so working with it has been a challenge. My pants are too tight, my back has been hurting, I feel like death if I don't (and even if I do) eat a few saltines every 30 minutes, and I fear that every little thing I usually do--cutting 80-lb wheels of parm, lifting heavy boxes--might be bad for PantsJuice, which, incidentally, is what we have been calling the potential child (we were calling it The Situation at first, but that had an overwhelming reality-TV connotation we weren't crazy about, so PantsJuice it is).

Saturday at work was the worst.

I was certain I was going to become a human fountain of the saltines I'd been force-feeding myself, but that was not what the bathroom had in store for me. Instead I discovered blood.

I ran to the office and became a human fountain of tears.

I was released from work and told to get a doctor's note before I came back.

But it was Saturday night. I couldn't find an obstetrician, and my luck would not improve on Sunday. One of the answering machines I encountered informed me that offices would be open to take appointments at 7:30 Monday morning.

At 7:30 Monday Morning I was informed the obstetrics department would not be in until 8, so I should call back then. At 8 I was told 8:30, and at 8:30 I was told 9. I cried.

Sometime after 9, I finally reached an obstetrician's office and was able to make an appointment for a week from Tuesday.

"I have experienced some bleeding," I said. "Is there any way I can get in sooner?"

A week from Tuesday would be the absolute soonest, I was told, but If I'd been bleeding, I'd need to go to the hospital before I came in.

So I called the hospital.

"I assume you have a prescription for an ultrasound from your doctor?" the voice at the hospital inquired.

"No...I've never been to this doctor, and the doctor won't see me until I come to the hospital...I've been bleeding."

"Oh," said the voice, "well, they must want you to go to the ER then."

"Um..." I ventured, "is the ER gonna take me? I mean, I don't know if I qualify as an emergency...."

"They'll take you. If you're pregnant and you're bleeding, it's considered an emergency."

Hoosband left work early to take me to the ER. We checked in at 2:52 and didn't head home until 7:45.

Hoosband smuggled in some saltines from the car, and I ate them stealthily in the bathroom to stave off starvation-induced nausea, as food and drink were prohibited in the waiting room.

It was a long, uncomfortable afternoon, but I was in possession of the world's greatest shoulder to lean on, and the wait was worth it.

Six weeks, two days, and I got to see its heartbeat. I have two small hemorrhages, and I have to miss a few days of work to make sure I get enough rest, but the doctor said PantsJuice looks perfect.

This morning I painted the bathroom with Pop-Tarts and bile, but I was happy knowing that PantsJuice lives. I can only imagine what grab-bag of nightmares awaits me, but I have faith that it will be a worthy endeavor.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part IV

The Setting: Rainy day-off. Wishing it were longer.

The Soundtrack: My wedding video, which is not so much a video as it is a digital collection of randomness revolving around and quasi-capturing my wedding...but I am good with that.

On the Stove-top: The roasted bones of pork shank and beef short ribs simmering into (hopefully gelatinous!) brown stock.

The Scenario: Chronicling the final chapter of my first trip to Ireland.
When the van came to whisk us away from Fota Island, we were sad our stay had been too brief for rejuvenating stone massages or caviar facials, but we were eager, all the same, to get to our next destination.

The English Market has been a Cork institution since 1788. Butchers, farmers, fishmongers, cheese-mongers, sandwich-makers, and chocolate and pastry artisans fill the stalls with local delicacies and exotic gourmet treasures.

Every corner I rounded revealed more facets of deliciousness, from salt cod to salmon.

With the promise of lunch lingering over me, I hesitated to try the vendors' wares. But when I came to On the Pig's Back cheese shop and glimpsed the Oisin Farmhouse blue goat Gouda and the Knoclara fresh sheep's milk cheese, resisting was futile.

On the second floor of the market, the FarmGate Cafe filled us full of the bounties from below. The Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad--buttery lettuce, shaves of red onion and cucumber, toasted walnuts, cubed sugar beets, a crisp vinaigrette, and toasts lightly kissed with honey and butter and generously cloaked with fresh, local Ardsallagh goat cheese--was incredible, even after I filled up on brown bread and butter.

Ah, butter. Is there anything better? The people of Cork might argue not: they have an entire museum dedicated to its history and greatness.
Thus, we departed the market and set out to discover fossilized butter barrels, vintage butter tins, and the role of butter in County Cork culture. I cannot think about it without reaching for a knife and a slice of brown bread.
After touring the Cork Butter Museum, we were destined for a night of merriment and song at the Bunratty Castle.
Complete with costumes and quasi-old English, it was the Bracebridge Dinner, swept from Stars Hollow to an Irish castle, and set to music.

We drank mead (not as nasty as I had anticipated) and feasted on roasted vegetable soup, full of parsnip-y goodness. We had smoked ribs that seemed more Memphis than Irish, and table wine that was almost impossible to sip--I found the wines slightly more palatable when I combined the red and white--but all in all, it was a jolly good time.
It was late when we got back to the Radisson Blu in Limerick, our final deposit before the ride to the airport, but we had to make up for bad drinks at dinner, so we hit the bar.
A few of us would be flying as the rooster crows, and as one pint turned into many, it became evident that our best bet for survival would be staying up all night. Drinking our final Guinnesses in the lobby as layers of darkness peeled away from the sky and finally revealed the sun, we were sad to be heading home but grateful for such an amazing trip.
My fear of flying blunted considerably by the residual adrenalin of my recent adventures and the haze of substituting beer for sleep, I settled easily and peacefully onto the plane.
When Hoosband picked me up at the airport, I couldn't have been happier to see him, or sadder for my trip to be over.
"Do you feel up to dinner?" he asked.
"Perhaps that Irish pub near our place?" I smiled. The best of both worlds.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part III

The Setting: Halloween. Just got back from a lovely drive through the Keys with Hoosband and his folks.

The Soundtrack: The clickity-clack of a different set of keys, as Hoosband finalizes an essay for application to a place where smart people go, and I divert myself with writing so as not to disturb him.

On The Stove-top: Stuffed so fully with raw oysters, crab cakes, alligator, conch fritters, grilled scallops, salad, and key-lime pie that I can't lift a finger to cook.

The Scenario: Wrapping up the Ireland saga, slowly but surely.

The Fota Island Hotel and Spa in County Cork is the kind of place you conceive of as a kid, gradually filling in the details and deepening the colors as you become an adult and your ideas of a good time expand to include luxury amenities and well-stocked bars.

One part Tiger Woods and one part tigers in the woods, the private island features three top-notch golf courses, a free-range zoo, and Ireland's premier cheetah run.

The hotel is fire and ice, light and earth and water. Stacked-stone walls and mammoth windows make you feel at once outside and in, adventurous but comfy.

To further aid your relaxation, the shimmery, trance-inducing spa features more than 60 treatments, from hydrotherapy to seductive chocolate body scrubs to signature caviar facials.

I checked into my room, peered peacefully out my window at the expansive rolling hills, and plopped onto the bed, sinking blissfully into the plush comforter for a brief perusal of the spa menu and a briefer attempt at napping before the alarm went off to dress for dinner.

Originally constructed in 1728 for Sir Richard Pyne, a former Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, the historic Ballyvolane House, or "place of springing heifers," could easily serve as the setting for the next re-make of The Secret Garden.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010, it would serve as the setting for one of the best meals of my life.

We were welcomed with bright and whimsical sloe-berry martinis made from sloe berries from the garden and shaken by Justin Green, the hospitable head-proprietor.

Martinis were followed by family-sized platters of homemade gravelox with cucumbers and mustard sauce. Resident chef Teena Mahon uses only locally-sourced fare for her incredible and sensual feasts, most ingredients coming exclusively from County Cork, and many from the Ballyvolane property directly.

The beautifully watermelon-hued salmon, caught by Mr. Green on the River Blackwater on the edge of Ballyvolane, melted in my mouth like velvety, briny butter.

Warm potato-leek soup in adorable miniature mugs was the perfect partner for the tender and crumbly brown soda bread I considered stuffing in my purse before determining instead to increase the amount I stuffed in my face.

When a platter of twice-baked Dubliner cheese souffles--saucy, delicate, creamy puffs of perfection--was placed before me, I had to close my eyes to keep them from rolling back in my head and bite my tongue to keep myself from releasing the inappropriately pornographic sigh of ecstasy I knew was imminent.

Lamb with a mint-and-mustard-seed salsa verde was accompanied by sweet and savory sauteed leeks, cut on the bias in a manner I had never seen and cooked more perfectly than I could ever have imagined a leek could be cooked.

Desserts were an amazing sort of free-form, panna-cotta-esque, lemon custard-mousse with fresh blueberries, and, perhaps the grandest revelation of the night, brown-bread ice-cream with sugar cookies.

Back at the Fota Island Hotel, I slept very, very well, if very, very briefly.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part Two

The Setting: Woke up at 6:30 a.m. on my day off so Hoosband could show me the efforts of top PhD programs to woo him before he shuffled off to work. Proud Weefay. Awake Weefay. Just gave the arm of my love-seat and my leopard-print Snuggie a caffeinated baptism, so it's gonna be a good day. Time to write.

The Soundtrack: Judging by the whooshing wind and pouncing shadows of flailing palm fronds upon my window shade, it's about to be rain and lots of it.

On the Stovetop: Nothing yet, but by the time Hoosband gets home, the smell of German Short Ribs and buttery Spaetzle will greet him at his car and usher him up the front steps for an Oktoberfest fit for two.

The Scenario: Irish reminiscence, continued.

With Juicy in our hearts and butter on our brains, we set out for North Cork to witness the conception of the latter.

"The miracle of butter," beamed a very proud miracle-maker, "is how a white liquid transforms into a yellow solid with a little salt and a lot of love--no added colors here."

If you've heard lore of Irish butter, perhaps that it cannot be beat, I tell you you've heard correctly.

The grass in County Cork is so green you want to roll down the hills in a white linen suit and bring some of that vibrant color home with you. The air is so fresh you want to be the kite to fly in it. The cows consume this grass and this air and produce milk so full of flavor and goodness that when it is churned to golden perfection you fleetingly think, Calories? Hmm.... I believe I remember caring about those once... before the thought is gone completely and your world consists only of the Kerrygold Irish butter melting on your tongue and the brown bread it proudly adorns.

Lunch was Ardrahan cheese fritters with red-currant jelly and porridge with cream and honey at The Vintage, a charming establishment in Kanturk, County Cork, noticeably popular with the sixty-and-up crowd, happily serving breakfast all day. I may have received some funny looks from my own crowd when I ordered porridge, but let me tell you, Goldilocks and the three bears knew what was up: my lunch was just right.

The mid-day meal, however, turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as we were greeted at the Ardrahan Farm by Mary Burns and a full spread of her delicious, handcrafted farmstead cheeses, her son Gerald's signature Irish coffee, and the most incredible tiramisu-inspired cake to ever tickle my tongue.

We toured the farm, met the cows, and watched as two adept women crafted wheels of Duhallow farmstead cheese. Artisan cheeses may be any cheeses that are made primarily by hand according to traditional procedures, but farmstead cheeses are only those that are made on the same farm where the milk is produced. This is Mary's business.

Fully integrated, from the cows to the aging rooms to the packaging, Mary and her small, dedicated team do it all.

Two cheeses are produced here: the mild, fresh-tasting Duhallow (named after the region where the farm is located), and the more pungent, washed-rind Ardrahan (the flagship cheese, named after the farm itself). Very different cheeses, both are sold in the States, and both are very good.

Asked if she might launch another cheese in the future, Mary said no with such conviction that I almost believed her. But the gleam in her eye was full of maybe.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part One

The Setting: Slipping on the much-required lounging uniform of elastic-waisted pants and an over-sized T-shirt and sliding onto the sofa after a day full of cheese tastings and wine pairings.
The Soundtrack: Nothing yet, but as soon as my fingers bore with the keyboard, it will be last week's episode of Glee on Hulu.
On the Stove-top: A steaming pot of veggie chili. Healthy? Truly. Tasty? Let's hope.
The Scenario: Dreaming of returning to Ireland...if my wallet or my waistline can ever afford it.
The trip was amazing.

I left MIA excited, nervous, frightened, and thin, and returned exhilarated, worldly, and considerably more well-padded around the midsection.

Dopey from sleep deprivation, high on briny Atlantic air, and bewitched by the melodically lyrical Celtic language, suggestive of magic and mischief and bedtime stories, I consumed pints of stout and three-course meals with far less discretion than a squirrel gives to nuts.

Analyzing the subtleties of Cheddars by day and raising cheers and beers by night, four days felt like weeks but flew by too fast all the same.

We arrived in Dublin and were whisked off to lunch at the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel, where I first pledged my eternal love to the exquisite cultural treasure that is brown soda bread. Speckled, hearty, moist, and surprisingly complex in flavor, from bite one I was rendered incapable of resisting this necessary component of every Irish table.
My resolve for moderation was further weakened at our next appointment, a cheese tasting with some lovely chaps who grade cheddar for a living. Not a bad gig, though I fail to see how they remain so thin if they are perpetually surrounded by the Vintage Dubliner my hands kept sinfully reaching for.

Dinner was foie gras terrine with cherry sauce and brioche toast, risotto with cepes and truffle oil, and strawberry-rhubarb crumble with homemade vanilla ice-cream at Peploe's Restaurant. A former president dined two tables down.

Morning came early. At the train station I tried to buy a phone card and failed. However, while tarrying unsuccessfully at the uncooperative automated kiosk, I discovered another Irish treasure, undoubtedly soon to make its mark on the States. Butler's Chocolates, founded in Dublin in 1932, is in the business of purveying happiness--seriously, it's their motto. But that's not just lip service. Order a delicious (ethically sourced, they assure you) espresso drink from a Butler's Chocolate Cafe, and select the complimentary chocolate of your choice. I selected a chocolate-hazelnut confection with which I would love to arrange a recurring renz de vous. Thinking of applying for a franchise? Might I suggest you come to Florida?

The train took us through the Irish countryside to the Carbery Co-Op, where I gobbled more Vintage Dubliner and incredible, homemade brown bread after donning a lab jacket and touring the cheese-making facilities.

Down the road just a smidge, we were welcomed with coffee, tea, and mountainous servings of banoffi pie at a quaint, family-run market. I almost marvel at how I was able to inhale the pie with such speed and entirety, but then I remember the crumbly looseness of the crust, the gooey, caramel-ly filling, the happy clouds of whipped cream, and the subtle shavings of milk chocolate, and ravenousness sets in once more.

We couldn't stay for seconds, however, as we had a hot date with a stunning herd of cattle. When you meet the cows who produce the milk for the Carbery Co-Op, you understand why the cheese tastes so good.

"Why aren't they mooing?" someone wanted to know, as we stood upon the cows' abundant kitchen table. "They're so quiet."

"They aren't waiting to be herded or to be fed," the farmer said. "They don't take feeding cues from us. They eat when they are hungry. They are happy. They have no reason to moo at you."

The cows looked us straight in our faces as if to say, "Yes, we are awesome. Bow down if you desire."

The next stop was Kinsale, where I instantly began making plans to buy a home: Step one) pack. Step 2) come into money....

We took a street-train ride through the fishing village to the highest point in town, overlooking the water-side shops and bars. Postponing dinner at the Bulman Restaurant just long enough to enjoy some pints in the barely brisk, new-autumn air, we eventually gave in to hunger and enjoyed fresh seafood in the posh, upstairs dining room. I appetized on oysters and entreed on scallops and regret only that I failed to squeeze in some sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

Before catching what few Zs we could at the enchanting Actons Hotel, we hit Ned Kelly's tavern for a night cap or few. A talented one-man act provided mood music with a mix of pop songs, traditional Irish tunes, and Southern rock. I had never witnessed a crowd sing along more aggressively to John Denver than to Sweet Home Alabama, but then, I hail from the SEC. In the middle of "Country Roads, Take me Home" a lasting treat came in the form of a bar brawl when a fellow by the name of Juicy was forcibly removed from the establishment. Juicy remained a topic of fond memory and reflection for the duration of the trip. How did he receive such a nickname? What got him all rawled up? And as the trip progressed, all questions were answered with the ponderance W.W.J.D. What would Juicy do

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear of Flying

The Setting: Sitting on the sofa, nothing on TV, waiting on dinner, willing myself to write.

The Soundtrack: Silence...weird.

On the Stovetop: Jamaican Jerk Kale and Black Beans.

The Scenario: Tummy rumbles into a bundle of nerves and excitement as I prepare to depart for Ireland.

My heritage is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent Irish, and as such, I have always dreamed of visiting the land of St. Patrick and leprechaun lore.

Not only is my dream about to come true, but my itinerary runneth over with four-star accommodations, farm tours, food tastings and fancy dinners. And as this trip is considered work, I am essentially getting paid to have the time of my life.

I will sample fine butters and cheeses and see where they are made and meet the cows and the farmers whose work enriches the palate and tickles the tongue. I will visit sustainable markets and banquet at castles and come home more knowledgeable and passionate about what I do.

Of course I am ecstatic. I love to learn. I love to travel....

But I hate to fly.

Mild agoraphobic tendencies have shut me in and shut me down in the past. I've stayed home and stayed safe when I should have been embracing opportunities and engaging life.

I don't think people know this about me. It's contrary to my nature. But it's true.

My husband encourages me to be brave. He is helpful. But he's most helpful when he's by my side, graciously allowing me to crush his phalanges upon takeoff, touchdown, and any bumps along the way.

He will not be there this time.

It will be me and God and a plane full of people, who I pray will not have to witness any physical manifestations of my anxiety.

I pray for a safe flight, a safe trip, a wonderful experience, and in the face of any potential danger, I pray for peace and serenity. I pray that God will quiet the Crazy that lives in my fluttering heart and churning stomach and help me to rely on Him.

My dreams are too big to stay grounded for life. If I let my fear of flying conquer me, how will I ever take off?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Healthy Dose of Vitamin P is Dinner Good Enough for Me

The Setting: Settling into a rainy afternoon following a sunny and productive day of errands, chores, tennis, and reading by the pool.

The Soundtrack: Ask This Old House on PBS...though I'm wishing it were It's Complicated on DVD. That movie gets better every time I watch it, but Hoosband is not as freakishly eager to test the replay capabilities of DVDs as I am, so I won't put him through that.

On the Stovetop and Steaming up the Oven: Homemade Bread for the week; Black Beans, Carnitas, and Homemade Corn Tortillas for tonight.

The Scenario: Making the most of the last days of summer.

Hoosband must return to work in a week or so, and the reality of another year in the trenches with the Faces of Tomorrow is setting in. The foreignness of concepts like Accountability, Responsibility, Respect for others, and Work is as prolific among this crowd as their eager embracing of iPhones, free lunches, new shoes, and a general sense of entitlement. But that's another topic for another day, or a memoir best penned by another.

I am glad to have a few more days of stay-at-home Hoosband before he reclaims his primary breadwinner status, and I am glad that we have come to some decisions about the future.

This draft may be a so-light-it's-barely-blue-print, but it's good enough for me, good enough for now.

Hoosband's date with the GRE did not go as well as we had expected. His scores were quite good, certainly better than mine would have been had I been in the hot seat, infinitely better than average, but not good enough.

As we considered the next step--to take the test again? to scrap all PhD plans?--we tentatively concluded that five years toward a PhD was five years holding us back from making more money, starting a business, starting a family, The Dream.

Why not take the same five years, complete a one-year Master's program, pop out thoroughly employable for quasi-interesting and high-paying jobs, obtain such theoretically stimulating employment, and start that sixth year with a baby fund and a business plan?

The PhD would make sense if it and its direct results were an end in themselves. But we have bigger plans; we are looking for means to a veritable cornucopia of ends.

So we went to bed early last Saturday, set the alarm for an hour when roosters don't crow, and set tires to Gainesville so I could spend my day off making peace with would likely be our land of Master's-seeking opportunity.

We drove around town and dined at a charming bistro a few miles off campus where I savored one of the best salads of my life, and by the last bite of fudgey German Chocolate Cake, I was convinced a year in Gainesville was the way to go.

I received my own "Way to go" when I was greeted at work on Monday with an extra dollar-per-hour on my paycheck.

I knew there was the chance that my recent job review could mean a review of wage, but I wasn't convinced my review was good enough to equate to a raise.

Here's to Good Enough!

To celebrate slightly formed plans and slightly more money, pork will be necessary. A fatty cut with oodles of connective tissue to be coaxed into submission in a long and gentle oil bath in the oven.

Hunks of velvety-tender flesh will fall into a fiery-hot skillet and sizzle till they can in good conscious be called Carnitas.

Black beans will be their companion.

Soft, flat-pressed yet pillowy, homemade corn tortillas will be their final resting ground, as they are adorned with freshly diced onion, tomato, cilantro, roasted poblano, and a squeeze of lime, and then devoured.

A last lick of the salty rim, a final drop of tequila and lime, and Bedtime.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The Setting: Gazing out the window at my thriving basil plant whose vibrant green vitality strikes an enchanting balance with the calming wave of the palm frond lounging lazily over the terra-cotta-colored stucco of my apartment framed by "it's a boy!"-colored skies and marshmallow-cream clouds....

The Soundtrack: Tap, tap, tapping of computer keys, as my own and my husband's create a disorganized symphony of hope and possibility.

Steaming up the Oven: Technically nothing, but I've got the idea of some no-cook Pumpkin Pie Truffles burning a hole in my head, and I'm about to do something about it.

The Scenario: Tomorrow, tomorrow....

Tomorrow my husband will take the GRE, and when he leaves the testing facility, he will have his unofficial scores, and a pretty good idea of which schools and programs are legitimate possibilities.

Tomorrow I will have my job review, and when I leave work, I will have either a shiny, happy glow of success or an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and doom--give or take some slight hyperbole.

I am in love with the company I work for, but I don't want to be in my current position forever. It is challenging and exciting in all the right ways, but I am restless and too capitalistic to be fully content doing the same thing for long.

Still, with the knowledge that this time next year I could be packing for Cambridge or New Haven or Chicago, it's hard to think too much about climbing the company ladder.

I already lose sleep thinking about work: nightmares flood my mind with thoughts of lost margins, excess spoilage, failure to comply with company programs, or my most legitimate concern, forgetting one more time to actually clock-in.

At work I am a machine, or at least this is my goal. Efficient, effective, whatever I have to be to put a check next to as many items on my worklist as possible, this is what I strive for. There is never enough time in the day.

My daydreams, when I can squeeze them in, are brief flashes of the things I really want: recipes to try, stories to write, languages to learn, classes to take, places to go, parties to throw, puppies to housebreak, businesses to start, boats to sail, fitness to achieve, and somewhere vying for space on the list, children to conceive. Is there ever enough time in a life?

I hope so.

I hope my job review goes well because I enjoy my job, and I am especially fond of affirmation.

I hope my husband's test goes well tomorrow because he deserves affirmation as much as I, and, impersonal though they may be, numbers can be pretty affirming.

Mostly I hope that tomorrow brings, in one form or another, a sense of proactivity and nextness.

I'm really not all that into change, but I'm getting restless here in Limbo.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Eze to South Florida

The Setting: A lovely day off. Blue skies. Sunshine. Breakfast.

The Soundtrack: Wealth Track with Consuelo Mack on PBS

On the Stove-top: Whole Wheat Crepes

The Scenario: Dreaming about European adventures gone by, I'm testing Belgian CocoaHaze! chocolate-hazelnut spread and hoping to recreate one of my favorite edibles from Eze, France.

Crepe stands and creperies are as abundant along the streets of Nice and the shopping malls of Bordeaux as the freckles on my face in the summer.

But it was in the historic mountain-top town of Eze that I devoured my first French crepes, from savory ham, tomato, and Gruyere to sweet Nutella and banana.

So simple, so good.

A crepe is like a hybrid of an omelette and a pancake, but thinner than either. An edible envelope of sorts, it can be tucked and folded over and around anything the palate desires.

I desire sweet. I just hope my whole-wheat attempt at healthfulness doesn't strip this dish of its structural- or taste-integrity!!

For the Crepes:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I use King Aurthur)
1/8 tsp cinnamon
dash freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, plain or vanilla (I use Pacific Natural Foods)
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (I use Kerrygold)
1/2 tsp orange blossom honey (or local honey)
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp white vinegar

In a food processor combine all but the last three ingredients, processing till smooth.

Allow batter to rest at least 30 minutes (you can keep it in the fridge overnight at this point if you desire).

Place a small, nonstick skillet over med-high heat (you can grease it if you desire). Combine water, baking soda, and vinegar and quickly stir into the batter.

Pour just enough batter into the pan to almost coat the bottom. Immediately pick up the pan and gently swirl the batter around to completely coat the bottom. Allow the crepes to cook about 30 seconds on each side (if you are incredibly adept, you can flip the crepes right in the pan with a jerk of your arm, but I generally rely on a little nudging from a silicone spatula to do the trick). Don't worry if your first crepe is a bust--mine always is.

For filling:
CocoaHaze! All natural Belgian hazelnut and cocoa spread
2 bananas

Gently spread a thin layer of CocoaHaze! on each crepe. Thinly slice the banana, and distribute along the centers of the crepes. Fold the edges of the crepes inward to cover the banana, and serve.

Makes about 6-8 crepes, depending on the size of your pan.

I was incredibly happy with how my "healthier" crepes turned out. Conventional wisdom stipulates up to 1/3 of the amount of flour in a recipe can be switched out for whole-wheat four, but I have been finding more and more that white flour is unnecessary in my kitchen. I'm sure the rule holds true in some cases, but the breads, cookies, brownies, and now crepes that I have eagerly consumed in recent weeks are welcome exceptions.

Another exciting revelation: Almond Milk. I am growing more and more in love with this stuff.

Honestly, I've never been a big milk drinker--I mean, my blood-latte-level is pushing lethal limits most days of the week, but I've never enjoyed a cold glass of the white stuff with my dinner. So for my purposes, almond milk might just push the gallon jug out of the fridge. Except for making queso fresco...I think.

CocoaHaze!: And the verdict is.... Superb! Every bit as delicious as Nutella.

These crepes were the shiznit. Such a good breakfast. I only wished I had some fresh sliced strawberries to serve on the side.

Next time I'm topping with whipped cream or sweetened mascarpone for an elegant dessert. Yum!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pistachio Halvah Candy Bars

The Setting: Rain is off and on...such is the onset of hurricane season in my hood.

The Soundtrack: Glee: The Road to Sectionals on DVD (pretty much my new default)

On the Stovetop: Dulce de leche

The Scenario: Testing two products from the store plus one Latin-inspired recipe I've been itching to try since my first trip to South Florida.

El Rey milk chocolate, pistachio halvah (a Lebanese sesame-paste confection), and homemade dulce de leche will join forces to create delectable mini candy bars. This might be genius.

For the Dulce de Leche:
For a slight shortcut on making dulce de leche, see the note at the end of this postor see this post for a slow-cooker version.

2 cups skim milk
6 oz (approx. 3/4 cup) brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Add the milk and brown sugar to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over med-high heat.

When sugar has dissolved, stir in baking soda, and reduce heat to med-low.

Cook gently, stirring occasionally but avoiding reincorporating the foamy parts for 3-4 hours or until mixture is a dark, caramel-ly color and has reduced by about half. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

For the Candy Bars:
The amounts you need of the below items are up to you...make a little, make a's pretty intuitive.

Pistachio halvah, cut into 1-inch-x-3-inch strips
Dulce de leche
El Rey milk chocolate, chopped

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper, and clear a space in the freezer large enough for the pan to fit.

Arrange the strips of halvah in a single layer on the baking sheet. Spread the tops of the strips with delce de leche, and chill in freezer for 30 minutes.

Before removing the halvah strips from the freezer, place the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring well in between each, just until chocolate is completely melted.

Dunk the halvah strips in the melted chocolate so that they are completely coated, and return to the baking sheet. When all halvah strips have been dunked, return the sheet to the freezer till chocolate has completely solidified.

Transfer candy bars to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until eaten. They will last a long time this way, but they are so tasty that it is unlikely their shelf-life will be an issue.


One of my better ideas...ever. The halvah can be crumbly, so if you desire to create a whole lot of these and you care deeply about uniformity of shape and size, you should purchase a lot more halvah than you think you'll need. You can always munch on the crumbled pieces as you go, or toss them to the "vultures" that inevitably circle the kitchen when the promise of chocolate is thick in the air.

Suspension of perfectionism may be necessary for ultimate enjoyment of the process, but the outcome will be surefire deliciousness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Near and Far: Ricotta and Truffle-Butter Ravioli

The Setting: A beautiful South Florida day

The Soundtrack: John Mayer, Room for Squares

On the Stovetop: Ricotta and Truffle Butter Ravioli

The Scenario: Testing 3 products in one sure-to-be-orgasm-inducing recipe: Locally-produced fresh ricotta (from Mozzarita of Pompano, FL), imported Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real deal, made from milk sourced from a single farm in Italy), and Terroirs d' Antan Black Winter Truffle Butter (a domestic product that features imported truffles and French butter).

For Pasta Dough:
6 oz all-purpose flour
4 oz (about 2 large) eggs
pinch salt

Combine dough ingredients either with your hands in a bowl or over your kitchen counter, or with the dough-hook attachment of an electric stand mixer on medium speed. Knead till smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes by hand or 10 minutes with mixer. Let dough rest 15-20 minutes, covered, to relax the gluten.
Short on time? Try using wonton wrappers instead of making your own pasta dough.

For Filling:
6 oz Mozzarita Fresh Ricotta from Pompano, FL
3 oz (1 tub) Terroirs d' Antan Black Winter Truffle Butter, softened at room temperature
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 freshly cracked black pepper
1 T fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, very finely minced
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 egg, lightly beaten

Use a spoon or fork to combine all filling ingredients except for the egg in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate till ready to use.

Roll out pasta dough into two 10x16-inch rectangles. If the dough is too resistant to being rolled out, roll a little, cover and rest a few minutes, and continue. Repeat if necessary.

Drop filling by teaspoons, 2-inches apart in rows and columns on one sheet of pasta. Dip your finger in the egg, and lightly trace the rows and columns, re-wetting your finger with the egg as necessary. Top with remaining sheet of pasta, and trace the rows and columns again with a clean finger, pressing gently to seal. Use a pizza cutter or ravioli wheel to cut the ravioli into squares.

For Cooking and Topping:
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 cup water
2-oz chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano, pulsed in food processor till roughly the size of lentils
Freshly cracked black pepper and fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley, very finely minced (as desired)

Add water and half of oil to a large saute pan over med-high heat. When water begins to boil, add ravioli. Once water has completely evaporated, allow ravioli to saute 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and add remaining oil and garnishes.


Notes: The hardest part of this recipe by far is rolling out the dough so that it is thin enough not to be gummy when cooked, but sturdy enough to contain the filling. But that's OK because I have a feeling I'll be making this dish frequently enough to perfect my rolling skills in no time. Soooo good!!

This local ricotta is so tasty and fresh, I'd love to try making a cheesecake with it. The truffle butter would be amazing incorporated into mac'n'cheese or mashed potatoes.

If you have leftover ravioli filling, try spreading it on a slice of toasted homemade bread and topping it with an over-easy egg and any leftover parmigiano. Totally the new breakfast of champions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3.

The Setting: Messy, dusty apartment...

The Soundtrack: Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Steaming up the Oven: Almond-Butter Date Cookies

The Scenario: Punching the clock....

I've been at it since February, and I've been writing significantly less, which is the primary downside to the 40-hour workweek.

My rash disappeared for several weeks and then suddenly reappeared last week after I wrestled an 80-lb wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. My sanitizer-solution-to-skin contact-ratio was significantly low that day, and it was the first time in a long time that I had cracked the I'm pretty sure I've nailed down the rash-inducing culprit.

I still have to crack the parm of course, but I try to keep a thick layer of clothing between my forearm and its aggressor.

Success equals excellence....

I may be a cheese buyer, but my department, and thus my theoretical area of expertise, consists of much more than el queso. Chocolate, wine, beer, olives, and specialty accoutrement should all be within my realm of knowledge.

If you want to be excellent at this job, my boss explained, you need to master all of the products in the department. The best way to do this? Taste everything.

So I decided, in the interest of my career of course, to commit myself to a new project.

As often as my (meager) budget will allow, I will purchase products from the store and try them out at home, taking pictures and testing recipes along the way.

Here's to the pursuit of knowledge!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It Would be More Funny if it Weren't True

The Setting: My day off; celebrating St. Patrick's Day a day early because I have to close tomorrow.

The Soundtrack: Glee: The Music. Volume 1

On the Stove-top and Steaming up the Oven: Home-brined corned beef with cabbage, carrots, celery and onions; Scalloped potatoes with green onions, baby portabellas, and Kilaree Irish cheddar; homemade brioche made with Kerrygold Irish butter.

The Scenario: "I am allergic to work," I joke, holding up my red-speckled forearms.

My husband shakes his head in his hands and sighs a half-laugh, half-whimper sort of sigh.

He says it would be more funny if it weren't true.

For months we hoped and prayed I would find a job. Then, one week into working, I wake up with embossed and emblazoned forearms. The bumps soon spread to my hands. The doctor says it looks like contact dermatitis, and it sounds like I got it on the job.

A few weeks later, the steroid cream the doctor prescribes seems to be working, and at the end of a four-day vacation from work, my skin looks almost normal.

But a day back on the job, the rash comes back, like that cat that "just wouldn't go away."

I try to avoid touching the sanitizing solution in the three-compartment sink as much as possible, as I assume my reaction is derived either from contact with the chemicals it contains or from contact with cheese...and if cheese is the issue...well, let's just hope it's not.

It is challenging to isolate the variables associated with my skin irruption because I have to touch cheese and sanitizers basically every day. I wear gloves of course (non-latex, hypoallergenic), but they are forearm-exposing and puny. I request full-length, heavy-duty rubber gloves, but they have not arrived as of yet.

The doctor advises me not to use the steroid cream for more than a couple of weeks and not to slather it on any more of my skin than absolutely necessary. Apparently, continual use of this product causes skin atrophy and permanent discoloration. However...I am instructed to keep using it until the rash surrenders.

I ask the doctor what I should do if the rash refuses to retreat.

He says I should find a new job.

Ah, the thought of re-entering the job market....

Perhaps skin atrophy won't be so bad.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mildew and Monkey Bars

The Setting: The threat of hurricanes haunts the horizon.

The Soundtrack: Constant sniffles, my own. Could be a cold, could be allergies.

On the Stovetop: Nada. But there's a steaming pot of coffee, which is good enough.

The Scenario: Last weekend we drove a few hours north to meet my husband's family at their Spring Break destination.

Cloaking ourselves in a false sense of wealth at the welcoming wonders of resort life, and in ample sweatshirts and blankets (someone forgot to tell Mother Nature it was Spring Break), we breathed mildew-free air, drank mango mojitos before noon, and lounged, frivolous reading material in tow, by the pool.

When it came time to point the car south, our limbs were heavy and our feet diffident. Knowing the rest of the family would continue their festivities for days after we departed made leaving that much less appealing.

Luckily, Mold and Mildew, our gracious apartment-sitters, rushed to welcome us as we heaved our bags over the threshold upon our return.

The pair have been our steadfast companions since they moved into our complex over Christmas, and now it's like they're family...which is nice, since our real family is so far away and, having just been teased by their presence, we are now going through a bit of withdrawal.

Sometimes M&M throw parties without our permission, and they have to be reprimanded. It wouldn't be a big deal, but their friend Ambiguous Fishy Odor sneaks into our bedroom and plays in the air vent, where he sometimes gets trapped for hours at a time, and...well, we like to keep the bedroom private.

We love our apartment. It may play host to the aforementioned parties and be a bit (a good bit) too small for all our stuff, but it is beautifully landscaped and in a pleasant neighborhood.

I would like the kitchen sink better if it had a hose attachment at the faucet.

The balcony would be better if there were room for both my husband and I to sit.

The bathroom light-switch automatically turns on a vent so loud that if I want to hear anything else while putting on make-up, cleaning the bathroom, etc., I must do so with the lights off. I would like the bathroom better if this were not the case.

But I figure that if these are my primary complaints, I should really be rejoicing.

My husband and I spend a lot of time dreaming. What kind of kitchen will we have when we can custom-build our own home? How many horses will we have at our ranch? Can we have a smoke-house for making our own bacon? How many cows will we need to operate a small cheese-making dairy? Will we ever be able to afford a mildew-free abode or resort vacations or starting a family?

The answers to these questions are like rungs spaced a little too far apart for a toddler on the monkey bars--just out of reach. As we grip the first rung tightly, we can feel gravity tugging and our palms sweating, and we wonder:

If we can just get enough momentum going, are our arms long enough to make it to that next rung? Or will we find ourselves grass-stained and scraped at the knee?

We are confident our arms will strengthen and grow. In the mean time: practice, patience, and lots of Band-Aids.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Gentle Bribe

The Setting: A sunny Florida morning

The Soundtrack: Create! on PBS

On the Stovetop: Jared's breakfast tacos

The Scenario: This will be quick: I have written a little article on my thoughts about country music. Check it out, leave me a comment, share your favorite Nashville memory, and win a Spirit of Nashville print from Vintage Art Studios!

A winner will be picked each week in March, assuming there are entries! So enter now, and tell your friends.

Happy reading, writing, listening, and loving!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Success, potentially.

The Setting: Just finished my morning pot of coffee. Reflecting on a week of--what? WORK!

The Soundtrack: Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Steaming up the Oven: Banana Almond-Crunch Cake.

The Scenario:
They (such luminaries as Dick Button and, I have been told, Linus van Pelt) say there is no greater burden than potential.

I'll clink a glass to that.

Although the possibility certainly exists that such dialogues transpired much earlier, the first discussion of my wasted potential that I recall occurred in a conference between my parents and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Austin.

"Morgan is so bright. I'm telling you, she can do ANYTHING," the conversation started so well. "The thing is...most of the time, she simply doesn't."

It's not that I was ever lazy. I was simply more interested in my own projects than in those assigned to me.

I mean, you pick: alphabetize a list of vocabulary words and copy their definitions from a volume of Webster's the size of a toddler, or organize the neighborhood kids to start a backyard library?


As I aged of course I found the value in following directions...something about becoming a contributing member of society...getting a job...keeping a job...and by the time I made it to the last 0f my academic pursuits, I was a valued straight-A student.

Excelling academically was like wind in my sails in the classroom, but my success felt more like an anchor when I hit the high seas.

The job market in August looked something like Filene's Basement after an 80%-off sale. All the good stuff had been swiped up, and what was left behind was frayed around the edges, too tight in the waist, and too big everywhere else.

I typed up version after version of my resume, but my qualifications looked meager and lame on paper. I couldn't even get an interview.

The prescribed structure of most online applications would not allow me to list my culinary school experience, as I could not report a graduation date, and when I could list it, I worried it would appear that I dropped out because of poor performance. There was no "check this box if you were one lousy internship short of graduating when your husband got a job 900 miles away and you had to leave your flawless transcript hanging in the abyss." How could I convey through these impersonal, electronic means that I had the necessary skills?

Knowing you are capable, but appearing an invalid is the real-life version of the nightmare in which you try to run, but your feet won't move; you try to scream, but you make no sound.

The good news is you always wake up.

"There is no greater burden than potential, and that burden has been lifted tonight." --Dick Button, referring to a successful performance by ice skater Sasha Cohen

A few weeks ago I got a call that went something like, "Hi, Morgan. I recently received your application for our cheese buyer position, and am calling to see if you would be interested in coming in for an interview."

I was interested.

One interview tuned into two, and the second came with a job offer and a lifted burden--or, I should say, a lightened load.

That's the thing about success, it's progressive.

What I've actually achieved is a name-tag, a title, and a venue in which to live up to my potential.

Will I be successful?