My Irish ancestors just made extra space for me on the family tree

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Cheesy hasselback potato gratin in my late Grandma’s casserole dish

Jeff’s Dutch ancestors are still on the fence though, notwithstanding this cheese and potato masterpiece, wicked non-Calvinist that I am. If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much and all that. Yes, they actually still say that where we grew up. I’m not mad, you’re mad.

So the above is a marriage (see how family-friendly I am) of a traditional potato au gratin recipe and relative new-comer the hasselback potato, as thought up by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

All hail Kenji and The Food Lab.

These potatoes, dear reader, are so good. Like, roll me into bed and turn off the lights good. Yes, there are 2 cups of heavy cream in the sauce. No, I don’t want to contemplate calories counts, thank you very much. Geez, just enjoy the cheesy-creamy-potato-y goodness. Some people, I tell ya.

It’s a bit of an event to make and takes 1.5 hours in the oven so it’s not a quick-a-minute side dish by any stretch of the imagination. Jeff did get to break-in the new mandolin slicer though, shaving 4 pounds of potatoes 1/8″ thick, and I think he dug that quite a bit.

I realize it was a little like a production line.
Jeff:      grate cheeses
Jamie:  peel potatoes
Jeff:      mince garlic
Jamie:  add cream, seasonings, herbs, garlic to cheeses
Jeff:      slice potatoes
Jamie:  dip slices in cheese sauce and layer upright in casserole dish
Jeff:      pour remaining sauce over potatoes

This dish has holiday-gatherings written all over it, although I don’t know if I’m willing to wait that long to have it again.

We’re not poor meal planners. We eat in courses.

Jeff reminded me, as I grumbled about my oven-roasted sweet potato fries needing another 10 minutes after he was done cooking his part of the meal, we paid a rather hefty sum of money on our last anniversary to get our dinner brought out to us as a series of small dishes, over the course of a few hours. So long live dining via courses because I don’t see us figuring out this “timing” thing anytime soon.

In my on-going effort to live a little lighter, make do with what I have, and reduce unnecessary expenses, I’ve gotten pretty serious about not bring any more books home – no, not even the $1 ones from the library book sale room – until I’ve read the books I already have. Since the year began, I admit I have borrowed a few library books (all photography- or cooking-related) and listened to a few books on tape via the Libby app while I run, but beyond that I’ve been sticking to it. This is my physical books pile from a month or two ago. I’ve read The Celts since then and I have at least two unfinished books stored on my Kindle. I think it’ll be enough to get me through the year.

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left and center left – Fiction, center right – Non-fiction, right – Dutch

On Monday, about an hour after I deactivated my Twitter account, I remembered that the book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier was still on my Kindle and decided to give it another quick run through. It was very good timing. Really, I highly recommend it. I finished it today and will possibly finish Ogen van de Wolf tonight. After that, I’ll pick up where I left off with Boundaries (non-fiction and boring af) from my Kindle and re-start Harry Potter en de Vuurbeker (#4) since I set it aside quite a while ago.

Someone go check Hell because I happily ate mushrooms again

Before we go too far, let me ensure you that I still think raw mushrooms are one of the nastiest foods on earth. Nasty. Vile. Tiny rot-scented sponges in my salad? No. But cooked mushrooms, that’s become the newest member in my most-beloved-recipes category.

*Photo would go here if we hadn’t inhaled them too quickly*

Roasted Mushrooms – serves 2
super easy, rich and earthy, an almost meaty texture
Note: These things are going to look terrible while cooking. It’s ok, they’ll be fine in the end.

1 pound white button mushrooms: wash, cut off woody stem ends, quarter them
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
6-8 springs fresh thyme

  1. Set rack in oven to the middle, preheat oven to 400F
  2. Toss mushrooms with the olive oil in a large bowl and season with the salt & pepper
  3. Layout on rimmed baking sheet
  4. Scatter the thyme sprigs evenly over the top.
  5. Roast until the mushrooms have released all their liquid and the liquid has evaporated. The mushrooms will be quite brown, about 30-45 minutes depending on your oven.
  6. Discard the thyme and serve

(or eat most of them right off the pan while the rest of dinner is finishing up)

If we’d live differently after a windfall, why aren’t we living that way now?

About once a year Jeff goes behind my back and buys a lottery ticket. Occasionally this time of year I’ll find Cadbury Cream Eggs hiding out in his briefcase. Yes, that’s about as clandestine as he gets. Pretty lightweight in the dastardly deeds category. For about an hour, he dreams of how life would be different with that obscene pile of cash, but then reality kicks in. We have more than we need already. We live comfortably already. We travel a bit already. We enjoy our lives already. We’re happy with who and how and what and where we are already. So outside of being totally debt-free, having more ease in seeing friends and family, exercising at our convenience rather than after dinner with everyone else, and seeing a bit more of the world than we already have and do, it would probably become a massive game of charity whack-a-mole when all was said and done. And who needs that kind of hassle?

If you give a Jamie some beet greens, she’s going to want some garlic to go with it

News flash: Social media is a weird world and I have a soul-deep, love-hate relationship with it. Twitter was sitting on my last nerve, for so many reasons; it had to go. Again. So that’s my personal news at the moment.

It was veggie pickup night. My bags of beet greens and baby kale looked so fresh and tender and alluring…

Greens Beforethat I simply had to sauté them (with four cloves of garlic) as part of tonight’s dinner.  I mean, look at them! Aren’t those deep purples and greens gorgeous? And they tasted even better. Luckily we still have the pound of spinach from tonight’s pickup to enjoy later in the week.

Greens After

Oh, weekly summer veg crate pickup, please hurry along. I miss your bountiful fresh veggie goodness.

Is it really apologizing if you’d do it all over again?

Man oh man, those were some tasty sticky buns. Jeff choose to leave the orange cheese-cream glaze/sauce off of his saying it was sweetness over-kill. Marc, Angela, Baby Lucy and I disagreed. I love the man but when he’s wrong, he’s just wrong. As of noon all but one of the gooey, pecan-y, look at those toffee-like ropes as you pull them apart buns were gone. And while we made noise about feeling bad for our hearts, arteries and digestive systems, not a one of us slowed our pace as we sidled up to the counter for a second (or in Jeff’s case, third) serving throughout the morning.

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When I was putting things together last night, I missed the ideal temperature when adding the liquids to the yeast so the dough didn’t rise nearly as high or as quickly as I’d have liked in the first rise or overnight in the refrigerator. That had me a bit worried. I haven’t baked bread in so long that I’d forgot about the picky nature of yeast. When I saw that the buns were very slightly raised but certainly not doubled, it looked like I might have killed the yeast off by having the melted butter too warm. Luckily it appears instead that the buttermilk had cooled things down too much and not all the yeast had been woken up. It’s easy to forget that yeast is a living organism with a small temperature range for activity. I’ve made a note to myself to use the baking thermometer next time.

That original ball of dough, so small and lonely in my big blue bowl, eventually rose enough to give us enough dough to roll out, fill with cinnamon sugar, and cut 12 rolls but they certainly didn’t fill out the 9×13 pan like expected. If you think I woke up a few times biting my nails to sneak a peek in the middle of the night, well, you’re wrong. I slept like the dead. It’s just flour and far, far, omg farrrr too much brown sugar and buttermilk. But I did pull them out and let them sit near the oven as it was pre-heating. And happily they did some puffing up before and during their time in the oven. Once they had rested a few minutes after baking, while I was cooking the orange sauce, Jeff inverted the pan onto a platter and all that caramel-pecan goodness was right there. Front and center. Oh my. Oh. my.

I’ll understand you if you and Gordon are just a wee bit jealous about the fact that we didn’t save any. Maybe next time.

Do you think Sting enjoys baked goods?

Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,

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I’ll be watching you.

The eternal stalker/orbiting anthem.

One of the things I like best about taking photographs more and more deliberately is that when I know I like something, I KNOW that I like it. The above is one that I adore even though its imperfections have been noted. Too busy, too much going on, too messy.  I think it’s great, it makes me happy every time I look at it. It’s my new desktop background. The bright red glasses looking out, the city in reflection, the mirrors inside showing the parking lot outside, the outline of the tree and clouds, the little spot of wood-orange on the left edge. Love it all.

The NCAA Midwest games are playing up the hill and in a few hours, Jeff and I will join some people from power cycling in the lower bowl to watch my two favorite teams play their 2nd rounds: Michigan State and whoever is playing against Michigan.

Go Green, Go White.

Afterwards, I’m going to make up the base dough for Pecan Sticky Buns, let it rise before/during Saturday Night Live, and then fill it, roll it up and slice it into rounds before letting it rise in the pan overnight in the refrigerator. Knowing that I only have to stir up the Orange Glaze Sauce and pop it in the oven tomorrow morning will feel like a gift. Fresh coffee, homemade sticky buns, good books, bed head and jammies. Not many Sundays have a better start, I think.

Stories to Tell My Daughter: A Story-Telling Event

Sometimes the nicest experiences come from the least expected corners of your world.

Back when we were eating out, Jeff and I would go to Fong’s (the space was once home to a Chinese restaurant) on Friday nights with the neighbors and a rotating bunch of regulars for happy hour – huge, cheap slices of the best pizza in town and a free drink to wash it down. Now the pizza was great and the drinks generous but the best part was the employees — especially the bar staff. Our list of favorites there would be pretty much all inclusive, but one of them for both of would be a young woman named Sari (pronounced like Mary but with a S). She’s quick-witted and sweet, smart and funny, beautiful and she puts up with no shit. To say that Jeff misses seeing her regularly is an understatement. I’ve always been a bit more stand-offish with the staff, that’s just how I am, but of all the people at Fong’s she’s the one I miss the most. We’ve talked books and music and travel and annoying customers. I think she’s pretty damn interesting and she doesn’t think it’s weird that I always brought a book with me to a bar.

Ok, back on task.

Last weekend, Jeff saw on Facebook (an evil network that I reject) that Sari was doing a reading as part of a multi-person event called Stories to Tell My Daughter. We hadn’t seen Sari in far too long so we decided to buy tickets and go see what it was all about tonight. Five women of different ages, upbringing, backgrounds and experiences recounted parts of their lives with openness and candor. The stories had some amusing moments but weren’t easy to hear. They were no doubt an important part of the healing journey for many of the speakers. There was a recurring theme of women learning to trust themselves, learning to value themselves, and learning to care for themselves even after some truly horrific experiences.

Afterwards, during the Q&A, one of the women noted that we give even the very littlest of girls a babydoll but little boys usually get toy trucks. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were close to this: ‘In doing so, we teach little girls that it’s their responsibility to focus on taking care of someone else almost from day one, while little boys learn to just drive up, over and the hell away from the shit they break.’

Jeff saw a movie, I took photos. Best date ever?

Afterwards, I edited a few in minor ways. (Baby steps.) Two turned out well, I think. Farfalle pasta with puttanesca sauce, asiago bread for dinner. All in all, good day. Look at these skies.

Two important notes:

1: Happy happy happy birthday to the woman I love better than a sister, Eileen Cook. If you’re a fan of YA and good writing, you owe it to yourself to read her latest, You Owe Me a Murder, released just days ago.

2: If you’re looking for something interesting, the movie Jeff saw today was Birds of Passage. I knew it would be too violent for me, but Jeff thought it was an interesting story and was well-told. Kudos to Lennart for yet another fine film recommendation.

PS – Jeff and I have been married for ages. No worries. We’re solid.

If Mother Nature is a bitch, Iowa’s weather is menopausal

Time for a Jamie weather report.

So for several days now I’ve had some truly stellar headaches from the vacillating atmospheric pressure that comes with large weather changes on the Prairie (and throughout the Midwest). It’s up, it’s down, it’s quiet, it’s thunderstorms. In short, it’s full-on mercurial. Good times.

Two days ago I finally dug deep and asked for help getting a photo reworked and – during the simple edits it needed – the completely rational and utterly terrifying comment was made that I really should just download the Lightroom software so I could do these myself. I knew this. I knew learning it wasn’t beyond me. I knew I wasn’t comfortable taking this on at the moment, but I also knew that if I waited until I was ready that I’d never do it.

Update 48 hrs later: I’m not ready. I’m not going to be ready. I just need to do it. So I got the software loaded yesterday morning and actively avoided it pretty much the rest of the day. I couldn’t even touch my computer, despite encouragement and a bit of gentle text-based prodding. Sometimes it’s so nice not having to look someone in the eye when you’re acting like a coward.

Today I dove in and the brain injury deficits and side effects have been on hours-long demonstration. Whenever I want a reminder of where I was cognitively and where I am now, I just try to learn something completely new. Plat du jour: Tears, anger, frustration, despair, rocketing self-doubt and a side of plummeting self-worth. Garnished with the knowledge that this isn’t hard to master! Mmmm, delicious. I popped a few unnecessary errands into the day’s mix to help keep some perspective but I gotta admit that I’m beyond fried as of 6:40 pm. Time to stop until tomorrow.

As an added bonus, my Massage Therapy session yesterday has my left side looking and feeling like I’ve been hit by a car. Seriously, I’ve been hit by a car before. The similarities in my skin are impressive. I always think, “Oh a massage, that’ll be so soothing.” Afterwards I remember that the name also includes the word therapy, so I really should expect discomfort and pain too.

Tonight Jeff was kind enough to volunteer to feed us and wrangled up some hamburgers. They were just what I needed. Simple, tasty, and not made by me. Let’s all hope for calmer internal skies tomorrow.

A big hug to anyone out there that’s needing it.