Sunday, February 9, 2014

Time: Brown Derby Black Bottom Pie

 There are times in life when we encounter a person, an object or an event that we feel we were meant to have in our lives for whatever reason. There’s a pull or an attraction that brings us together and then we have those moments when we realize it was meant to be, that there is something we were meant to learn from this encounter. The Found Recipe Box has proven that to me time and time again. Even after all these months away, as soon as I started to bake my most recent creation, there it was, staring me right in the face just as it had so many times before: a life lesson.

It has been hard to find balance in my life lately. Working full-time, raising a toddler and trying to maintain a life of my own where I’m a wife, a friend and an individual can be exhausting and frustrating. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do my best in whatever role I’m playing and there are many days where I feel spread too thin and as if I’m just not living up to my own expectations. I’ve been determined to work on this blog, but then after a full day am left with no energy and feel defeated that yet another day has gone by without a post. I was disgusted when I logged on and saw the date of my last post.

But, in the midst of these moments, I was delivered a wakeup call. Of course, at the moment, it didn’t feel like that at all and it wasn’t until I had time later to reflect on the course of events did I realize that that’s what I received. In fact, it was while I was baking that I made the revelation. But let me take a step back and first explain what happened.

December was a rough month for our family. It actually began much earlier than that, but it all seemed to culminate in one tragic week of December. Last July, I discovered a tumor on our chinchilla Chico. He went in to have it removed, but the pathology report came back and revealed that he had an aggressive form of cancer. There wasn’t much we could do, it was just a matter of time and we were told to enjoy the time we had left. And we ended up getting a lot more of it than we ever expected. He didn’t start to decline until October, right around the same time that my daughter, Lucy, was gearing up for Halloween. She is in love with superheroes and decided that for Halloween, she would be Batman and our dog, Murphy, would be Robin. But she didn’t stop there. Once we realized that Chico was succumbing to the cancer, she decided that she needed to recruit him for her Justice League and asked me to make him a cape. I would say that I don’t believe she made the connection that Chico was dying and that the timing of her request was pure coincidence, but even at two, she was amazingly intuitive and she is so connected to our animals that she just might have been in tune with him enough to know that he needed all the help he could get. So I pulled out the sewing machine and created a Superman cape for the chinchilla, never expecting that he’d live long enough to see Halloween. Except that he did. He refused to wear his cape so we hung it on the side of his cage, but he was there to help Lucy celebrate her favorite day of the year and to round out her superhero trifecta.

Not only did he live to see Halloween, but we were even able to give thanks that he was still with us for Thanksgiving. That, however, was when our luck began to wear out. Just before Thanksgiving, I discovered a lump in Murphy’s armpit. After dealing with Chico’s cancer, I wasn’t taking any chances and took him straight to the vet, who felt that it was just a fatty cyst, but that we should remove it to be safe. So we scheduled his surgery for the Monday after Thanksgiving. And that’s when our tragic week began.

Monday morning, Murphy went in for surgery. Chico wasn’t doing well and had become very lethargic. So while Murphy was at the vet, I brought him over to my desk (I’m incredibly lucky to have a job now where I work from home) and he sat next to me while I worked. I knew he wasn’t doing well because that never should have been possible. But I took advantage of the opportunity to be close to him and made sure he was comfortable. That afternoon I got the call from the vet, everything went well and the doctor felt that he had gotten everything. When I went to pick him up, Murphy was groggy, but very happy to be going home.

Tuesday morning, I had to make the very difficult decision to put Chico down. It was glaringly apparent that it was time and I needed to let him go. It was excruciating and I had no idea how I was going to explain it to Lucy. His vet told me that she’d never understand and it would be O.K., but I knew my daughter better than that and knew she’d feel this pain almost as much as I would. What I didn’t realize was that Murphy would feel it too. After Chico’s passing, Murphy didn’t go back into the room where the chinchilla lived for over a month. I had no idea he felt so close to Chico, but he obviously felt the hole in our family as much as the rest of us. And I was right about Lucy. Every day (to this day), she asks for him. In fact, two weeks after he died, she was dragging a suitcase through the house. When I asked where she was going, she replied, “to the doctor to get Chico, he’s been there too long.” I had to walk out of the room; I had no idea what to say. All I could do was agree with her and turn away before she saw the tears began to spill. 

This picture is a little blurry, but it was too sweet to leave out.
During this time, I had forgotten about Murphy’s surgery. I was convinced by the doctor’s belief that his lump was just a fatty cyst and devoted my energy to grieving for my friend instead. But that Friday afternoon, I received a call that would force me to focus my energy in an entirely different direction. When the vet called, I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that something was wrong. His lump wasn’t a fatty cyst, it was something much more sinister: cancer. He repeated several times that he never imagined that outcome. Neither had I. The one piece of good news is that the type of tumor he had typically presents on the heart or spleen and you never know the dog has one until it ruptures, they bleed out and die. By some miracle, Murphy’s was in his armpit where I could feel it and have it removed.

Our vet referred us to the Oncology Department at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. They did a full workup on his blood as well as scans on his internal organs to ensure the cancer hadn’t spread. Just before Christmas, we received our second miracle: the cancer hadn’t spread. However, since the tumor was located in his blood vessels, the doctors told us that without treatment it was likely the cancer would return in six months. So in January, Murphy began a low-dose daily chemo treatment that will last for one year. He just takes a pill every day, which he loves because we administer it in a hot dog, and so far, so good. He just had his blood levels tested and everything looks great. He’s in good spirits, besides being frustrated by the horribly cold winter weather (like the rest of us), and you’d never know he’d been through this trying ordeal. There are a lot of people all over the country who have been sending their love and prayers to Murphy so to keep everyone informed of his progress, I started a blog to chronicle his cancer journey. To read more of his story, please visit:

When we’re in the middle of these situations, we don’t have the capacity for clarity. Instead, I was angry, sad, scared, frustrated, exhausted, etc… I didn’t see this as a life lesson. Not yet. It took a little piece of paper from The Found Recipe Box to show me that.

When I started this project, I never imagined how much it would come to mean to me and what an integral part of my life it would become. I never thought that all those little scraps of paper and index cards written by complete strangers would teach me so much. But I feel like every time I pull one from the box, a lesson comes attached to it. And this was no exception.

January 23rd was National Pie Day and I knew exactly which pie I was going to make. One of the first recipes I posted to the blog was for Black Bottom Pie and when I wrote the post it was dedicated to Murphy (only that was for his “talent” for digging holes in my backyard). This time, I wanted to post a dedication to him in honor of his heroic fight. I began to arrange the ingredients on the counter – some, like gelatin, were things I had never worked with before this project. I pulled out the beautiful red ceramic pie dish I bought for the first pie I ever made from the box. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and a sense of feeling “at home.” I didn’t realize how much I missed this process, these cards, and the stories. It all came together and just felt right.

I began the recipe at a time when I was also doing several other things, which just seems to be the norm these days. And when I got to step 3 where you “chill until thickened,” I threw the mixture into the fridge and then left my house for several hours to tackle the next items on the to-do list. And that’s when it happened, when it all clicked and the lesson of “time” smacked me in the face. When I finally returned to my mixture, it had hardened and I panicked, I thought I had ruined it. So I attempted to let it reach room temperature to see if that would return it to a usable state, but lost my patience and tried to move to the next step before letting it sit for an appropriate amount of time. As I massaged the mixture and begged it not to be ruined, I stared blaming myself for not taking the time I needed to pay attention to what I was doing and properly preparing this pie. Time. There was that word again. Lately I’ve been cursing the clock for there never being enough time to get all the things done that I need to do. In November and December, I was begging the universe to grant me just a little more time with my beloved chinchilla, my friend of ten years, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. And now, here I was, at the mercy of time again and feeling like a failure because I hadn’t managed it properly. So I took the warning. I put the bowl down. I walked away. And I went straight to where Murphy was sleeping and buried my face in the warm tuft of orange hair that stands up where his ear connects to his head. This is one of my favorite places to pet him because the hair here is so soft and when I submerge my nose in the fluff, it smells like Murphy. It smells like “home.” 

After properly cuddling my best friend, I returned to my mixture. And after some coaxing, it finally transformed into what I believe a proper Black Bottom Pie should resemble. I poured the mixture into the prepared pie shell and returned it to the fridge to set.

When I cut the first piece to take pictures and sample my creation, I remembered the hard learned lesson and took time with the pie. I didn’t devour it, even though it was a tantalizing concoction of sweet, but bitter chocolate and homemade whipped cream. I let the fork rest gently on my tongue and slowly pulled the bite into my mouth, where I lingered on the flavors until each had been properly enjoyed. And even now, as I write this, I knew I had to devote my attention so that I could do Murphy, the pie and the lesson justice. The writing has always been my favorite part, so I have made sure to savor it, just as I did that decadent piece of pie. 

I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be able to post, but I am going to make a concerted effort to try to find more moments to dedicate to this project. I miss it too much when I’m away and we need to treasure those things that make us feel like we’re “home.” I apologize for the length of this post, I didn’t realize how much had been percolating inside of me, waiting to be spread across the page. If you made it this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read it and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now, go and do something for yourself, find a cherished activity or person or place and savor it. Don’t let those moments go. Grab onto them and hold them inside of you so that you’ll never be without them. And if you make this pie, I recommend letting the first bite sit on your tongue for a moment. Take the time to enjoy it. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Sweet New Beginning: Crepe Suzettes

 I don’t think that it’s any big surprise that the book “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell was a big inspiration for my blog. Ironically I read it right before I stumbled upon The Found Recipe Box at an antique show. I immediately connected with Julie for many reasons, but mainly because she was at a point in her life when she felt lost and was facing some big life decisions. At the time I was unemployed and Ryan and I had put our plans for the future on hold, including starting a family. It felt like someone had pushed the pause button on our lives.

But reading Julie’s book helped. She wrote about her situation with blunt honesty and humor. She creatively worked her way through a challenging time and accomplished huge goals that she had set for herself. I felt empowered and encouraged as I turned the pages of her book and when the little lost recipe box came into my possession; I knew it wasn’t by chance. However, when I contemplated starting the blog, I didn’t want to just copy what Julie had already done. I wanted to take those recipes and share my own stories. And I didn’t want to set a timeframe in which to complete the project.

Well, here I am, three years later, and still nowhere near completion. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not giving up. Life has changed a lot in the past three years: I’m working full time and I have a beautiful little girl who gets all of my attention during our waking hours together – and she is at that age where she is constantly exploring and into EVERYTHING so my eyes rarely stray far away from her general vicinity. This leaves little time to do much else other than make dinner, do laundry, clean and pass out. 

The newest little cook in the kitchen: Chef Lucy
But once again, I find myself in search of a connection. I found work after two years of unemployment, but it was a huge step back from where I was and I’m not even in the same field. There are days when it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the stress of barely getting by. Once again, we feel as though our lives are on pause. It reminds me of the summers we used to spend in Florida visiting my mom’s family when I was a kid. My dad, brothers and I would swim in the Gulf of Mexico together and would challenge ourselves to tread water as long as we could. We’d paddle out until we couldn’t touch, then beat our arms and legs against the current and constant waves until our muscles burned and we felt as though we’d sink. Then, just before our tired appendages gave out on us, we’d let go and float on our backs, letting the salt water hold our exhausted bodies up until we were ready to dive back in.

I’m ready to dive back in. And once again, I’m looking to Julie for inspiration.

I rarely re-read books. In fact, I think the only book I’ve ever read more than once is “To Kill A Mockingbird,” (my all-time favorite). But I’ve started reading “Julie and Julia” again and already feel like I’m sitting down to lunch with a very close friend who I haven’t seen in many years. There is a quote from the book that I underlined the first time I read it and have gone back to re-read several times already:
“So that night I made my New Year’s resolution, better late than never: To Get Over My Damned Self. If I was going to follow Julia down this rabbit hole, I was going to enjoy it, by God – exhaustion, crustacean murder, and all. Because not everyone gets a rabbit hole. I was one lucky bastard, when you came down to it.”

Julie Powell

Luckily, I have not had to experience the crustacean murder, but I can relate to what she’s saying here and she’s right, not everyone gets a rabbit hole. And I’m so very, very thankful that I am one of the lucky few who do.

When I made the spreadsheet of all the recipes in the box, I tagged a few that I would like to make and dedicate to Julie Powell for her inspiration. And I’m honored to post one of those recipes now: Crepes Suzettes. Crepes were one of the recipes Julie struggled with and, after lots and lots of practice, eventually mastered. After making these, I can completely understand her frustration with the delicious little devils – they are nearly impossible to flip! After several attempts, I ran out of batter and had to give up, but regardless of how mutilated my poor little crepe was, it was still heavenly to eat.

Not quite round, but it works
 I did make a slight change to the recipe, however. We were at a festival this summer and saw banana/Nutella crepes and the combination had been swimming in my head ever since, so I had to try them. If you get a chance to taste these, don’t pass it up. They are truly divine. 

Crepe Suzettes (with bananas, Nutella and whipped cream)
So thank you Julie, for having the courage to share your story. I know that’s not easy. But hopefully you know how much that means to all of us out there looking for the right ingredients to turn this little thing called life into a delectable five-star meal.

And I also want to give a special thank you to all of you who have stuck with me through this journey. It means the world to me to have you share in this adventure and I love hearing your stories! So thank you, thank you, thank you! Hang in there, we have a long way to go. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I’ll Meet You at the Bridge: Chocolate Angel Food Cake

It has taken me several months to write this post, partly for lack of free time, but I think mostly because I’m still in denial. In October, I had to say goodbye to one of my very best friends in the world, Dorie. 

I’ve written about Dorie before, she was my parents’ Flatcoated Retriever. Dorie was my special girl, but she was special in her own special way. She wasn’t like my other best friend Flatcoats, Buck or Sage, who were both very outwardly affectionate, loved to cuddle and weren’t shy about sharing their love with you. Dorie didn’t like to cuddle. She’d jump into bed with you, but would only stay as long as you didn’t move. At the slightest toe wiggle or gentle inhale, she’d bolt. And if you tried to hug her, she’d pull away, shifting all of her weight into the weakest point of your embrace, hoping to break the link and run free.

But she’d melt your heart with her loving stares. We’d be sitting in the living room at night watching TV and all of a sudden I’d get that feeling that someone was looking at me. I’d look up and catch Dorie staring straight at me with a focused and intent look, as if she were trying to connect with me telepathically. But I didn’t need some form of extrasensory perception to know what she was trying to say. I could feel it in my bones. It was the kind of stare that brings tears to your eyes and gives you goose bumps. She was sending love, a love so deep and pure that a mere glance from her would send a shockwave of bliss rippling through you long after the connection between your eyes was broken. Dorie didn’t need a physical touch to express her affection, she just needed her eyes. 

Sage, Dorie & Nell
Last year was a very hard year for my parents. Of their three Flatcoats, they lost two. Sage’s death rocked us all to the core. Anyone who is an animal lover and has lost a best friend will truly understand the depth of that pain. But we weren’t the only ones affected by his loss. Dorie suffered too. Sage was her best friend. 

Sage & Dorie
We weren’t the only recipients of those loving stares, Sage got them also. You could read  the look in her eyes with stark certainty – with all of us close to her, all was right in the world and she was truly in her own utopia. But when Sage was gone, a piece of her was missing, an important, foundational piece. And without it, Dorie just couldn’t survive.

She died 5 months to the day after Sage.

Dorie’s cause of death was tumors that ruptured in her chest. But my mom swears – and I agee – that Dorie truly died of a broken heart. Love is a powerful thing. When we have it, we feel invincible. When we are separated from it, we will move mountains to be reunited. Sometimes, however, we take it for granted. We believe it will always be there and instead of being constantly celebrated, it gets lost in the shuffle of life and tucked away, like a once-treasured item from our childhood that gets packed in a box and put into storage. Losing Dorie and Sage has taught me a lesson to stay rooted in the moment, enjoy every second we have together, because things change and sometimes we don’t get the chance to pull those boxes out of storage and rekindle the excitement for the things we packed into them.

Dorie & Sage

This February marked my 8-year anniversary of moving to Minnesota. I love the home I’ve made for myself here, but I am also still very homesick – some days more than others. The arrival of Lucy in our lives has made it immensely harder for me to be six long hours away from my family. In the past eight years, I have sought so much comfort in knowing that when I arrive home I will be greeted at the door by three very enthusiastic barking, jumping dogs that are ecstatic to see me (two of them were at least. The third, well, she only has eyes for my dad). Immediately upon arrival, I would be covered in slobber, have dirt streaks down my pants in the faint form of a smeared dog foot and red scratches on my stomach from Dorie’s nails as she desperately tried to be the first one to greet me. Every time I left, I would fall into Dorie and Sage with huge hugs. Sage loved every second of it and grunted his pleasure. Dorie endured it, but I secretly think she savored those moments as much as I did. Now, however, when I go home, it’s quiet. Until, of course, my parents see Lucy and shout out their enthusiastic hellos or Lucy sees Nell, the remaining Flatcoat, and squeals out her delight at seeing a dog (it doesn’t matter that the dog doesn’t care to see her). There is no slobber. My pants stay clean a little longer. My stomach no longer bears the temporary tattoo of a dog’s deep and true love. I will never forget the last time I said goodbye to Dorie. I held onto her as tight as I could and she let me. Maybe she knew it would be our last goodbye. I cried. I held her, told her I loved her and I cried. Maybe, deep down, I knew it would be our last goodbye too. 

When I searched through the box for a recipe that would be fitting for my sweet girl, I knew exactly which section to look in first. When she had her surgery and we almost lost her in 2010, I made angel food cupcakes. So for this post, I knew I had to do a similar recipe and I chose to make a Chocolate Angel Food Cake. I love these cakes, they’re so easy to make and dependably delicious. Plus, there are so many ways to dress up their flavor, either by making it sweeter with a chocolate drizzle and whipped cream or the “healthier” option of covering them in fruit. I decided to keep it simple – a chocolate cake with a dollop of whipped cream. It was one of my absolute favorite recipes in the box and I think it was a very serendipitous choice for this post.

I thought of Dorie as I pulled ingredients from the cupboard, as I cracked each egg and measured out 1 1/3 cup of egg whites, as I stirred the fluffy batter, and while the cake cooled upside-down in the Bundt pan. Ironically, when it was time to remove the cake from the pan, I lifted it, patted the bottom and watched as it fell out onto the cooling rack and broke in half. Very serendipitous indeed. 

Even after sitting down and writing this post, I’m still in denial. I have this hope deep down in my heart that maybe the next time I go home, I’ll learn it was all just a bad dream and Dorie will be there to greet me at the front door with Sage. She’ll stain my pants and scratch my stomach. Then we’ll run outside and I’ll watch her dig holes under her favorite tree, fish for frogs in the pond, and eat the decorative grasses in my mom’s garden. She’ll bark at me when I’m not following fast enough. I’ll smile – a smile that goes straight from my face to my heart. And she’ll stare back at me – her loving stare that goes straight to my bones and makes me confident that all is right with the world because we are together. But sadly, I have to admit to myself that that is a dream that will never come true. Instead I need to find solace in the fact that Dorie has been reunited with her best friend, Sage, and her mother, Bonnie. They all met up at the Rainbow Bridge and together, they’re digging holes, fishing and eating grass. Watch out frogs, Dorie is an amazing hunter. 

Dorie, I miss you more than words can say. You will always be with me – always – deep inside my bones. Goodbye my sweet, sweet girl. Goodbye for now…until we meet again at the bridge. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Autumn Won’t Let Go: Apple Turnovers

Last January, when we brought Lucy home from the hospital, the wind chill was 25 below zero. I never truly despised winter until that moment, when I had to step into the piercing cold with my brand new baby girl. Every piece of the car creaked and cracked in the cold on the drive home and I think it took the entire 20-minute trip for the engine to completely thaw out.

But this year, we’ve had a very temperate winter. Back in October, the meteorologists started saying, “Enjoy this weather folks, it will be the last nice weekend of the year.” Up until a couple of weeks ago, they were still staying that. We’ve been seeing temperatures in the 40s and even a few 50s all the way into January. For those of us who were seriously considering packing our bags and moving south last winter, it’s pretty nice. But for those who are longing to pull their skis out of the closet, go sledding, or are ready to drill a hole into the ice and go fishing, it hasn’t been a good season.

In honor of the lingering autumn weather, I made a fall favorite: Apple Turnovers. Topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, these delicious pockets of molten cinnamon apple are the ideal combination of hot and cold – a perfect complement to our unseasonably warm weather. Lucy’s new favorite treat is apple slices, so she was able to enjoy the pre-cooked ingredient, while Ryan and I savored the sweet and soothing finished product. Without looking at the calendar, one bite of these and a glance out the window would make you think it’s time to start carving pumpkins and planning a Thanksgiving menu rather than exchanging Valentine cards.

For Lucy’s first birthday, we gazed across our bare, brown backyard and reminisced about the weather one year ago – bitter cold, three feet of snow on the ground, near constant will chill advisories. Maybe you’ll get to go sledding on snow next year, Lucy, instead of dry grass and piles of leftover autumn leaves. But remember to enjoy this nice weather, because this still is winter in Minnesota and it just might be the last nice weekend of the season. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

December Birthday Cake of the Month: Peppermint Candy Cake

Do you remember the Birthday Cake of the Month card? The last cake I posted was from November 2010 when I announced I was pregnant and starting a new job. I can hardly believe that was over a year ago. I only had two cakes left to go and sadly, that December and January were a little hectic and the cakes were never made. So this year, I dug the card back out and made the first of the last two cakes: Peppermint Candy Cake. And in true Found Recipe Box fashion, it ended up being the perfect recipe for the situation.

Last December, all through the month, I kept thinking that I needed to make the birthday cake of the month. I remember checking the card and seeing “Christmas Package Cake” in black type. In my mind, I thought of all the fun ways I could decorate the cake, all of the different adornments I could add to make it a truly tempting package to tear into. But December came and went and the cake was never made.

At various times throughout the past year, it would pop back into my mind. “In December,” I thought to myself, “I get to decorate a cake to look like a beautiful present!” And again the list of colors and bows and fancy gift tags would float around in my mind. I thought back to the Queen of Hearts Cake and the Merry-Go-Round Cake and made a mental list of ways I could incorporate different artistic styles.

Finally, December arrived. I pulled out the card, grabbed the New Party Cakes for All Occasions booklet, turned to page 19 and…it wasn’t there. The cake inside the package was supposed to be a jam cake. I flipped though each page of the booklet, but never came across the jam cake. I looked again, read each recipe title carefully. Nothing. So I flipped back to page 19 and was treated to a nice surprise. Instead of a jam cake, there was something much more delicious and appropriate for the holiday season in its place: a Peppermint Candy Cake.

While I was crushing up candy canes to sprinkle into the batter, I kept thinking of the Chocolate Roll Cake and my mom’s variation, which will always be an absolute favorite of mine. She put crushed peppermints into the whipped cream center of the cake, giving it just a hint of Christmas flavor and a slight crunch with each bite. Lucy watched as I slowly turned the red and white canes into small chunks and powder. I wonder, when she’s older, what recipes will remind her of me. Sadly, I don’t think it will be this one. 

Once the cake was completed and decorated, we dug in for our first taste.

Immediately I noticed the consistency. It wasn’t the soft, moist bite I was expecting. Instead it was dense and a little crumbly. I’ve been told that the ratios of ingredients on some of these older recipes need to be adjusted a bit. Perhaps if I play around with it, I can soften the cake up (here’s another example of chemistry coming back to haunt me!). Because with just a little more moisture and maybe a few extra candy cane pieces thrown in, this just might be a cake that Lucy would remember well into her adulthood. And it fit perfectly with the lesson I’ve been reminded of again and again the past few years. Sometimes we hit bumps in the road, whether it is something as major as unemployment or as simple as a recipe missing from the page or a dry cake. Regardless, we just need to stay focused, make a few adjustments and move forward. Of course, typing those words out are much easier than applying them to real life sometimes, but when the prize for all that hard work is a delicious piece of Peppermint Candy Cake, it makes the tough road ahead a little easier to follow. 

If anyone has any suggestions on how to moisten the cake or adjust the ratios of the ingredients, let me know!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

First Tastes: Baked Sweetbreads and Mushrooms

When I started this project, my goal was to make every recipe in the box, take pictures, taste it, and then write a story about it. I was excited because it would push the limits of my comfort zone and force me to try new things. I thought this was a great idea – until I came across the card for Baked Sweetbreads and Mushrooms.

I knew I had heard the term “sweetbread” before, but I couldn’t remember the exact definition. My sweet tooth began conjuring images of cake with chocolate fudge drizzled – no poured – all over it. But there was this nagging voice of reason giggling in the back of my mind telling me that my fantasy was about to be destroyed. Somewhere deep in my memory vault was the definition of sweetbreads, but it was too chicken to reveal itself. So I enlisted the help of Google to discover the truth…and immediately amended my goal for the blog.

I found a few variations on the definition, but basically sweetbreads are the thymus glands or pancreas of veal, beef, lamb and pork. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know I’m no Andrew Zimmern. This pushes the limits of my comfort zone a little too far and I’m just not brave enough to purchase these supposed delicacies, let alone bake them and put them in my mouth. But a recent commercial on TV sparked an idea for a different theme for this post.

If you’ve been watching NBC recently, then you’ve probably heard that they’ve resurrected the show Fear Factor, one of the original “reality” shows and probably one of the first places on American TV where people subjected themselves to horrifying stunts, such as eating live bugs or animal eyeballs, for a shot at a large chunk of prize money.

Thinking back to those early episodes of the show, when it was such a revolutionary idea to make people eat disgusting things for money, made me ponder the idea of “first tastes.” Lucy is starting to eat real food now and it’s fun to watch her reaction to different foods. 

Lucy's first taste of rice cereal -- this picture makes me crack up every time I see it.
 Everything is new – the texture, the smell, the taste – and everything needs to be examined thoroughly before it’s allowed to slip past her two teeth and down her throat. It’s been so long that I’ve tried something completely new that I’ve forgotten that feeling of hesitation and apprehension. She first pokes the item with her finger. If it is squishy and sticky, such as a banana, then it’s quickly rejected and sent to the floor for the dog to eat. If it is bread or something crunchy, like a cracker, then it’s carefully picked up and tentatively placed just inside her lips. And if it passes the test, then it’s gobbled up. Her little fingers work together furiously to grab as many pieces as possible and shovel them into her open mouth. Fortunately, the combination of her zeal and lack of coordination sends most of the pieces to her lap so she doesn’t choke on them. 

My little Irish lass gobbling down potatoes at McGuire's Irish Pub in Pensacola, FL.
Lucy’s a pretty adventurous eater. Aside from her aversion to certain textures, there really isn’t too much she won’t eat, or at least try. But I wonder if even she would be brave enough to try sweetbreads. Watching her explore the world has already rekindled so much in me that has lain dormant for way too long. Maybe I should take a lesson from her and give some new foods a try. But instead of taking the plunge and starting with sweetbreads, I think I’ll wade in and give Brussels sprouts a try instead. Does anyone have any good recipes to share?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Waffles

 When Ryan and I started dating, we lived six hours apart. There was a lot of time spent on the phone or driving to see one another. But all that time away just made the moments we got to be together that much more special. Often times we’d pick a place in the middle and meet there for a long weekend. And there was one thing we always looked forward to during those trips…waffles (that’s not what you thought I was going to say, was it?).

We loved to find the hotels that offered not only a free continental breakfast, but one which included a “make your own waffle” station – with the batter pre-measured into little paper Dixie cups that could be easily poured into a piping hot waffle iron. In the morning, we’d patiently wait our turn to choose just the right cup of batter, then listen to it sizzle and pop as we carefully spread the thick liquid evenly through the channels of the iron. Smiles spread across our faces as the smell of cooking waffles slowly drifted up to our noses. At the sound of the timer, we’d pry our breakfast out with a plastic fork, drop it onto a paper plate and carry it to our table where we’d sit and enjoy our “home cooked” meal.

It’s not that they were the best waffles I’d ever eaten – most of the time they were mediocre at best, hardly better than their frozen cousins. It was what they represented that made them so special. Eating those waffles meant that I was spending time with Ryan, something I only got to do a few hours a month. They became part of our routine, something that’s hard to establish when you see each other infrequently and each time it’s in a different place. But it was a routine nonetheless.
After a year and a half of dating long distance, we decided it was time to save some gas money and move closer to each other. And the rest is history. But those waffles never lost their special meaning. We still seek them out at hotels when we’re traveling. It’s as if they are a talisman that we cling to, reminding us of where we started and how far we’ve come. Over the years, we even got a waffle iron of our own. We’ve tried several waffle batter variations, but they never seem to be the same as the ones in the hotels. So we were excited to find a recipe in the box that we could put to the test.

Sadly, we weren’t too impressed with this recipe. The consistency was a little runny and the waffles were thin and limp. But, because of the baby and money being tight from unemployment, we haven’t traveled much in the past few years. So when that familiar sizzling sound hit our ears and the enticing smell of batter cooking on a hot iron drifted into our noses, we felt “home” again. It’s true what they say, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Before I began this project, I never imagined that I would miss being in the kitchen  making a mess with flour all over the counters, swearing at boiled icing, or waiting to see if the cake I pull from the oven will be light and fluffy or hard and caved in. But in those moments between the time when Lucy finally falls asleep and when my body gives into the exhaustion and passes out, my mind carries me back to the same thought time and time again: I miss writing and cooking. I miss them the same way I used to miss Ryan after  we’d packed our bags at the hotel on Sunday afternoon, each driving away in opposite directions.

There are things that are just a part of who we are. A long time ago, I learned that I am a “writer.” It’s deep in my soul. No matter what I do, nothing will ever change that. It doesn’t matter if I ever get published or if anyone else reads what I’ve written, I need to feel the soft glide of ink across paper, get a cramp in my hand when my body can’t write fast enough to keep up with my excited mind, or listen to the tip tap of my fingers as they type out thoughts on the keyboard. There have been times in my life when writing and I have taken a vacation apart from each other, but we’ve always come back. We are like lovers who see each other on opposite ends of the beach and run, almost in slow motion, towards each other until we slam against one another in a tight embrace, as if we are trying to fuse our bodies into one so that we may never be separated again.

Only now, I’ve come to realize that cooking, too, has entered that embrace. As I stare at my lonely kitchen utensils and realize it has been months since I’ve made a Found Recipe Box recipe and posted it on the blog, I get that pang deep in my gut and long for an afternoon in the kitchen.

Lucy just turned six months old. I can’t believe it. Everyone said it would go by fast, but I never imagined time could move this quickly.

She’s getting so grown up already and insists that she’s a big girl. I want to freeze time and enjoy each precious moment for as long as I can. But I also can’t wait for the day when she can join me in the kitchen. I love to watch her interact with the world. She’s so inquisitive and pays close attention to everything around her – I think she’ll catch onto baking quickly. And someday, I’ll pull out the waffle iron and teach her how to prepare her own batch of batter, all the while regaling her with stories of all the adventures her mom and dad went on…after their fulfilling breakfast of fresh-made waffles, of course. Hopefully by then we’ll have perfected the recipe, finding just the right blend to recreate those thick, flavorful hotel waffles.