My weekend of cookie baking and candy making was a smashing success. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways.
ONE: My friend Jen is an absolute darling and catching up with her is always so good. She loves me and my family and that makes me feel so warm and fuzzy.
TWO: Jen’s little baby (2 months old!) is a PEACH who could sleep through the apocalypse (as well as KitchenAid mixers running full speed, clanging pots and pans, and non-stop chattering followed by ringing laughter). He smiles and coos and basically is amazing every moment of the day.
FOUR: I do believe that I set a record for most goodies made in a 24-hour period… Orangettes, almond joys, smokey cashews, ritz-peanut-butter-sandwich cookies, peanut toffee, salted caramels, espresso bark, lemon sandwich cookies, and marshmallows!
I’ve been absent from this blog for longer than seems possible – and now I’m updating not with a recipe, but with a promise. But first, I have some homework to do, and a very important list to make.
You see, my amazing friend Jen and I get together for one weekend every December for a cookie baking and candy making extravaganza. This year will mark our seventh straight year of coating the kitchen in sugar and flour while talking and laughing nonstop. Jen arrives in 6 days, and I still don’t know what I’m going to make.
We – and I use that term in a nebulous, collective way – keep ourselves so tightly scheduled. Every 15 minute slot is penciled in along with multiple back-up appointments, just to be sure we maximize our time. And yet, do you feel like me? The more I do, the more I feel like I’m missing out on. I can spend an afternoon at home cleaning out a closet and feel so good about crossing something off of my to do list, but when I’m done I immediately start thinking about how now I’m behind on cleaning the rest of the house. That feeling of not ever catching-up starts to put me into system overload. I feel like I have less and less capacity to deal with everyday stresses and I can’t turn off the running lists of tasks and things to keep track of.
And then (my poor husband, bless his patient soul) I blow up. Fall apart. Breakdown. Cry, even. I mumble incoherent things about wanting to take time to enjoy life, not just rush through it. I wail and lament that as soon as we find an extra hour, we fill it up. And although those may be honest truths, it’s a bit pathetic that you would find me rambling on about them with my face a red puffy mess, while blowing my nose and wiping tears away with my sleeve. It seems petty. And avoidable. But it happens.
He thinks I’m setting up the tripod and testing the shot. Little does he know that I think he’s damn cute and I love it when I catch him with that, “I’m waiting for you” expression on his face. And I just noticed that this was taken before he realized that his pant legs were rolled up. He’s going to kill me.
The most sure-fire way for me to reset my system is to physically escape, which is, admittedly, not the most realistic solution. If you’ve had any kind of conversation with me over the last 10 days I’ve surely mentioned that at this time last year my husband and I were honeymooning in Italy. It seemed almost cruel to be thinking about that this past week as I teetered precariously on the edge of sanity. It was the trip of a lifetime (shocking, I know!). Days were spent wandering the streets, soaking in art and history, drinking wine and feasting on delicious food. The hours stretched out before us, unscheduled and open to any whim we might have. Alas, we will not be returning there any time soon, and I knew as I sobbed that an escape of that caliber was out of the question.
The very first morning that a cool, crisp breeze greeted me on my way out the door I started daydreaming about rich, warm meals. And even though we’re experiencing an unseasonably warm autumn here in Minnesota, the evening chill and vibrant leaves have signaled a change in menu here in our house.
Some dishes are the embodiment of a season. Roasts: Winter. Asparagus – any way: Spring. Caprese salad: Summer. Risotto: Autumn. When I pulled a butternut squash out of my CSA share last week, my mind instantly jumped to risotto. I was apparently not alone in this thought, because last night when my husband and I escaped the mid-week insanity and enjoyed a few hours in the warmish, coolish, weather on one of the most beautiful patios in town – a place with some of the best food in town to boot – my eyes went immediately to to the butternut squash risotto on the menu. (If you’re wondering, I absolutely ordered it. And it was delicious. But honestly, not quite as delicious as what I’m about to share with you.)
The cutest tortilleria just opened up close to our house, and I stopped by one recent afternoon to pick up some tortillas. I ordered at the counter, and then I waited for a few minutes. Soon a man emerged from the kitchen, carrying a bag that contained a wax paper and foil package – filled with so fresh they were still hot tortillas. People, I’m talking hot off the grill! They made them! Just for me! They were white and blistered and like no tortilla I’d ever had before. I took them home and filled them with a corn and zucchini saute, avocado cream, and roasted tomato salsa. And I’m not kidding, they were amazing.
This meal is really three recipes in one: the roasted salsa has a rich, deep flavor thanks to a quick trip under the broiler for the tomatoes and peppers. The avocado cream can be a dip, a sandwich spread, the base for a great dressing, or a topping for Mexican dishes. And the corn and zucchini filling – oh man – it can stand on it’s own as a side dish, be thrown into salads, be squished into quesadillas, or stuffed into burritos.
Often, while my son is stubbornly picking through a serving of spinach, he will ask, “Mom, what foods do you hate?” (Answer: lima beans and cooked carrots). Conversely, while he’s digging into pizza or tacos, he will inquire, “Mom, what is your favorite food?” Although this may sound strange, I find that question difficult to answer – mostly, I think, because I associate the term ‘favorite food’ with something that one could eat almost every day without tiring of it, and although general food groups (like cheese) fall into that category for me, full meals do not. I enjoy variety.
And then summer rolls around, and my basil plant becomes prolific, and tomatoes recently picked at the peak of their ripeness appear at the farmer’s market, at roadside produce stands, in my CSA box, and on my doorstep (courtesy of friendly neighbors). And I remember that I can eat basil, olive oil, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, salt and pepper – chopped up and quickly mixed together every day of my life and not grow tired of it.
When this pretty kale showed up in our CSA box this week, all curly and dark green and purple, I decided it was the perfect time to tackle kale chips. Have you heard of kale chips? If not – do you live under a rock? Seriously, a Google search results in 4.6 million finds. Kale chips are everywhere. And everyone raves about them. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high – I mean, come on – a crispy, salty snack food loaded with iron, vitamins, calcium, protein, and antioxidants? Yes, please!
Every recipe I looked at had basically the same ingredients: 1 bunch kale, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and salt. The chips are super easy and quick to make – the most tedious task (which is by no means tedious) is removing the stem and ribbing from the kale. I found it easiest to lay the kale curly side down, with the stem facing away from me, while pulling the knife toward me along both sides of the stem.
2 minutes later: viola! De-stemmed kale.