Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Recipes: "Thyme Lord" Chicken and Mushrooms

Was dying to use the fresh thyme growing in my garden - am also in the hazy greatness of discovering Doctor Who. Hence the recipe and name. Although it did not quite conquer the depth and breadth of Time per se, it was an excellent main course that ended a long day deliciously - hope you think so, too.

"Thyme Lord" Chicken and Mushrooms

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste 
1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 cup whole button crimini mushrooms
1/8 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 TB balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 TB butter, cut into 12 chunks
2 sheets aluminum foil, 12" x 16" each

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place your two sheets of aluminum foil directly on top of each other. Fold in three sides to form a pocket, leaving one of the longer sides open. Fold it in enough that you will keep liquid in but not lose too much ground inch-wise. Place your pouch on a baking sheet with sides.

2. Season chicken breasts liberally on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder (splitting this quantity evenly between all four sides). Add seasoned chicken breasts to a bowl with all remaining ingredients and toss together. Pour this mixture and all liquid into your aluminum pouch and close the open side. Gently shake the bag from side to side to even out ingredients and place baking sheet + pouch on the stove top. Light your burners on high under the baking sheet for one minute to activate the heat in the tray. Turn off burners, and place tray on the middle rack of the preheated oven.

3. Bake for about 25 minutes (if your chicken breasts are very thick, you may want to butterfly them for this recipe). Remove from oven and allow to cool a couple of minutes before cutting open the foil.

Serve immediately after opening. Spoon mushrooms and some additional sauce over the chicken for plating. This is a relatively healthy and light recipe. I'm going to use it regularly this Summer (particularly on rainy evenings when we can't grill out). I recommend serving it with the roasted green vegetable of your choice. Next time, I'm trying brussel sprouts for sure. Happy eating, friends.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Growing Things

In college, I had a boyfriend who liked bonsai trees. He succeeded in over-pruning one straight into its death, and another into a life of stunted and strange angles. He meant well.

One afternoon, while killing time in a hardware store, he bought me a cactus. "It'll be your thing," he said. I definitely sneered a little. But I decided to try anyway.

As I did most things those days, I decided to just sort of wing it in terms of caring for my newly acquired plant. I knew nothing about cacti. I still know next to nothing. I do know now that you can over water them. And that they'll die. Slow and agonizing deaths. Because that's what happened to mine, of course.

After that, it was like the plant world had it out for me. And for good reason. I had basically water-boarded that poor cactus to death. Any and everything I had ever endeavored to grow from that point forward had died instead. My green thumb was missing. In its place, a fellow stood cloaked in black.

I had to get rid of that guy.

When we first moved to the suburbs, my mind concocted grand pictures of myself coming back from this bleak period of plant-killing and becoming a master of the earth - one with nature. Any fleeting thoughts of a lingering curse could be forgotten. I would find friends among the green and grit of nature. Dig my hands into the ground. Magically not be afraid of touching worms or dead things.

Yet year after year, in spite of my good intentions, my small attempts at gardening failed. Young plants looked flushed with potential in their early days, but then sat stillborn in middle development, green fruit hanging still too small mere weeks later. I did manage to get some herbs growing, but any idiot can do that in practically any climate, so I knew there was no real success there.

In fact, the very first thing I've ever really sucessfully grown alone, is a baby. But, for once, this story has nothing to do with her.

This is a story about my love for the internet. Did you know that, internet? I love you. Truly. Because if it weren't for the massive amount of easily accessible, important information dancing magically at my fingertips, I would still be an uninformed hack who kills a couple of tomato plants every year.

I was a rotten gardener for one reason and one reason alone: I completely neglected to educate myself. Like, didn't even try or think to try. I just hoped things would go well. That it would just be common sense.

It's not just common sense, by the way. There is a lot to know. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. You need to know what the hell you are doing.

The internet inspired me to become a better gardener, by first helping me to become a better cook. I started using the web to seek out simple recipes for favorite recipes and making them, modifying them, learning from them. Before too long, I was starting to make up my own stuff - I felt confident. I had gained a new skill.

Suddenly new hope came rallying into my heart like Gandalf leading all those guys down the mountain at the battle of Helm's Deep. I was like, "YEAH!" (at the movie, and at that very moment). I remembered my love of the earth, and my hope to gain its trust again one day. The internet was the answer.

My spirit renewed, I set out to learn everything I needed to know about building a home garden and maintaining it. I was overwhelmed by all the generous enthusiasts out there who donate their time to write blogs and create videos, because there is a ton of really solid information out there provided by people who are just passionate about growing things. I totally wanted to be one of those people, too.

We got our garden going on April 27th with a selection of cold crops. And I'll admit, I was nervous. As soon as they'd been put to ground I suddenly felt sure that they would all die. They were so small. Maybe they even looked a bit limp? Lifeless!?

Not dying. Just have nothing good to do. 
I calmed down a bit over the next few days. I covered the soil with a layer of mulch (which I had neglected to buy initially) and watched as the plants firmed up, started reaching out. But I still set to fretting like I had a sick child when the temperature dipped dangerously low one night. As the days passed I even started spending time researching how to harvest some of these things when that time might come - what should I look for? How will I know they are ready? But I kept my hopes on a short leash. No need getting too attached. 

I pulled off lettuce leaves that were low to the ground. Kept my kale trimmed back 25% at a time. I clipped the broccoli at the stem, and new heads formed in the vacancies. I felt confident one day. And more so the next. I challenged my luck by adding warm weather crops, filling my experimental plat to its brimming point. Crossing my fingers, and then uncrossing them and reading more gardening blogs instead.

I spouted easy advice and fact to friends and family. Locked in data points coming to call when beckoned by my memory - they were my facts now, of me.

I wasn't only growing things in the dirt, I was growing things within as well. My confidence came from knowledge - my knowledge from my effort, and the resources all thanks to the wonder of people looking to add to the world. Many of them contributing over the magic of the web.

So often we think of only what we want to take from this life - even in its most noble pursuits, the mind can be clouded to think of what we're owed, what should be ours without any real claim. But, I will venture this advice: happiness is in the growing of things - the making of things - the addition of life. It could be a garden, or a song, or an invention of process or practice. But it is adding, not taking away that brings fulfillment. It is what is right. It is what is good.

Well, that and the internet.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Seeing Yourself

This afternoon, worn out from too many warnings, I raised my voice and instructed, firmly, and for the 10th time, that it was unacceptable to throw action figures down the stairs. I really laid into her in my matter of fact, truthful, and logical parenting style. I was eloquent, loud, and clear. I felt that I had been the previous 9 times as well, but that didn't really matter at the moment.

As she always does when I'm scolding her, Willow puffed out her lower lip in a classic pout and stared angrily at the floor. To be sure I'd made my point, I gripped her little chin and turned it up so she was looking in my eyes. Then I said, "Do you understand me, Willow? What did I say about throwing toys down the stairs?"

And then she shattered my illusions.

She mimicked me. Not only did she attempt to repeat back what I'd said, she affected her voice, changed her posture, and gestured wildly. According to her, I was no bit the collected centurion I thought I was. I was a fingering-wagging monster that growled a lot. There were lots of shouts! And declarations! And between each of them, she'd squint her eyes and give me her best death stare (Awww, baby's first death stare).

Thrown a bit, I looked up and quickly to the mirror. There. I caught my still hunched shoulders, my furrowed brow. Damn it all, but I still had my pointer finger out and ready to go a-wagging!

She was right. She saw me in that moment more completely than I saw myself. And it was unnerving.

I tend to pride myself on my healthy grasp on self-awareness. In my opinion, it is acceptance of self and others that is the key to happiness. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to open my mind and show myself truth. I employ logic, and look hard in all physical and metaphysical mirrors. But today I'd failed, and I didn't even realize it.  As that truth hit home and I saw my self-assessment was wrong or perhaps just plain absent,  it felt extra tough because it was both a failure within the structure of how I hope to parent and within my evolution to become fully aware of who, what and how I am. It kind of sucked.

I'll tell you a secret, though. Tinged with hindsight, these moments are actually the very best part of endeavoring toward knowing yourself fully. They force your hand - demand that you look - LOOK! - at yourself, and that you  recognize that you are not your best. That you gave less than you could, were less than you could be. It is in those spaces that progress is made.

More power to you if you spot each low moment on your own. Me? I'm thankful that there are extra eyes watching me - reminding me who I really am. Holding up mirrors when I'm caught hiding behind something. Helping me fight illusion.

Find humility in your bad moments. Be thankful for the watchers who help you to grow. Become a watcher yourself. And for crying out loud, stop wagging your finger so much - nobody likes that.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

MfCP: Daft Punk - Around the World

New Daft Punk out this week, so I've been revisiting their old tracks. I'm LIVING for this song today.

Also: this video is genius.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MfCP: The Mountain Goats - Dilaudid

I always knew that I should like these guys, it just took me a while to get around to it. So glad that I finally got with it - so little music is like poetry anymore. And that's a damn shame. Since I am new to this scene, and to John Darnielle's verse, this particular song struck me hardest on my first listening. That's not to say that it is the album's most visceral overall - I now have several favorites that cut deep in varied ways and acting under much subtler witchcraft. But, this song is special because it gives you no choices. You will be struck by it. It is the swinging, bloodied fist of the album. Intense, ugly. Swift and beautiful. Well crafted - a beauty in spite of her anger.

The rest of this album is awesome, too. A real standout.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Recipes: Best Turkey Meatloaf Ever

Yes, an epic name for an epic meatloaf. This recipe is adapted from one created by the grand mistress, herself: Ina Garten. I have changed a couple of things here:

1. We have... sensitivities to onions in our house. So, I have reduced the amount here by quite a bit. Feel free to boost it if you are an onion lover...or a glutton for punishment. It's your meatloaf, man.

2. I added carrots, because every meatloaf is an opportunity to hide healthy stuff that your kids/you might not normally eat. So, do that - seriously, with whatever you want. I'm sure there are plenty of other veggies that you could add (grated zucchini, and peas both sound good off the top of my head). Just make sure that your veg (onion + whatever) doesn't exceed 2 cups - we want our moisture balance to remain as it is in the recipe, and extra veg = extra moisture.


3. Ina's recipe calls for 5 pounds of ground turkey (WTF, that's insane!), so I have halved that amount. If you happen to be feeding an actual army, double this bitch and add a half hour to the cooktime - they will salute your awesomeness because this meatloaf is amazing.


A fangirl shout-out, just quickly, to Ina - I have mostly taught myself to cook, but if there was a second place for most concepts taught, it would go to her. She is a wonderful cook (albeit a bit too salty (literally) for my taste)), and watching her show, Barefoot Contessa, was basically a cheap substitute for taking cooking lessons. Plus, you get to learn all about how everyone in the Hamptons goes to a different specialty shop to buy each ingredient in their dinner recipe and then prepares said recipe for a casual-chic dinner party at which the guests are both impeccably groomed and 95% likely to be gay. She speaks logically about food and explains the science of each process you employ. She really helped open my eyes to the art of cooking, and how to learn its ways. Thanks, Ina.

Best Turkey Meatloaf Ever
adapted from Ina Garten's Turkey Meatloaf


3/4 cup onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground thyme (or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves)
4 TB Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp tomato paste
2 1/2 lb ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
6 TB ketchup

 1. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 TB olive oil and bring to heat. Saute onion, carrot, salt, pepper, and thyme until onions are translucent and all veg is softened, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato paste - stir until well combined and remove from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Looks disgusting. Will be delicious.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine ground turkey, eggs, bread crumbs, and onion mixture together in a bowl. You can use a spoon, but as Ina always says: Clean hands are a cook's best tool. Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased sheet pan and spread ketchup over the top. Bake for 60-75 minutes in preheated oven, or until it registers an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Will not win beauty prizes. Will win your heart anyway.

Haters will hate, but this turkey meatloaf is the most delicious meatloaf of any sort that I've ever tasted. Ditch the ground beef - it's full of fat. This recipe proves that flavor can be developed in a great number of ways, no extra cholesterol necessary.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Nothing to Fear

My life can sometimes resemble a patchwork quilt of various colorful phobias. Odd little fears that reign strong in my peripheral thoughts - popping up time and again to shock me with an icy finger of terror in response to the unlikeliest of things. I admit freely that my long list of idiosyncrasies includes a great many of these triggers. Some truly irrational (like my consistent fear of the entire airplane just disappearing out from under us at 10,000 feet) and others, like the one I discovered recently, that border much closer to circumstances that might occur, albeit rarely and in most cases only in moments of blind stupidity.

I was cleaning up the kitchen countertops. Mopping crumbs towards the sink and flinging them headlong into the oblivion also known as the garbage disposal. I finished my quick sweep and snapped a final towelful of odds and ends into the stainless sink, rinsing it down the drain to join the other hapless dross that now faced the sharp edges below. I switched the water to flow down the drain, and reached for the switch that would throw the blades into ravenous life.

And there it was, that sickly green silverfish of a feeling - the cringing flutter of fear's black wings. Bleak and bottomless. Contracting tissues - causing everything to be clutched and bittersick.

I could feel the clenching of my chest, the protective screeching of my nerve endings: "Please don't chop off your fingers today!" they seemed to be screaming. I could see it happening - almost feel it. I shuddered, and forced myself to look at my hands, safely tucked in each others' grasp. More than sheltered from the fury below. Nowhere near harm. But I held them tighter together still, needing more of a reminder.

The wave broke, and I pushed out a heavy sigh, flicking the switch to kill the beast. The motor flew in one last violent push and died. The ruckus lost its legs, became only the white noise of rushing water - and with a single motion, I killed that, too. Color crept back to my heart, squeezing out the sharp black and white contrasts of fear.

It was but a moment. Like 10 seconds, tops. But the feeling crept onward, intentional. And relief was sweet when its honey-slow path finally slipped out of my system and back into the ether. Seeking new purchase somewhere else, however ridiculously earned.

And all because I turned on the garbage disposal.

This phenomenon intrigues me. That I could feel such intense, real emotion that had no claims to a grasp on reality fed the logical conclusion that we cannot (in spite of what you may have been told) always trust our guts. Sometimes they're damn liars. I had no hand in harm's way, but I felt it cut to bits regardless.

Maybe somewhere in the Multiverse another version of me got caught there, attempting to free up a rattling annoyance - no idea that the machine was set to malfunction any second. A power surge. A moment of intense and regrettable idiocy. Maybe I felt her pain for a moment. Maybe we shared a wavelength - a thought. Nirvana. A hand chopped to pieces.

Or I could just be a bit nutty. Much more likely, all things considered.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bon Voyage, Mr. Vonnegut

The first book I read by my hero, Kurt Vonnegut, was God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. To tell the truth, I hardly remember reading it. I do remember thinking it was bizarre, and wishing fervently that we could read something awesome, like Stephen King, instead. Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I have to laugh at that, because on occasion I was shockingly closed-minded in my early years for no good reason whatsoever. This is an example that gives me a special kind of grief these days because I became such an ardent admirer of his - and to admit that I didn't connect with him straight away somehow cheapens our relationship (as one-sided as it may be).

Fast forward to my early twenties - Bored out of my skull in a job that could have been performed by a monkey, I was tearing through books at a pace my wallet couldn't handle. I had just finished yet another snore-fest of girly fiction about someone who stole someone's boyfriend or some similar ilk, and I was in need of a book for the work day. So, on my way out the door I dropped to my knees in front of the bookshelf I shared with my roommates and began to quickly scan the available titles.

There are few moments in life that I would ever describe as being close to true kismet (seeing as I think that the idea of fate is ridiculous) but at that exact second, just as my eyes and brain focused enough to read the first book's title, Cat's Cradle basically hopped into my hands. I would say I was drawn to it for aesthetic reasons, but the spine is pink and pink is the color I dislike most, so that's not a likely answer. I got lucky though, whatever it was that caught my eye was the catalyst for a great explosion of joy in my life. I read Cat's Cradle in less than two days and fell hard for one Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.

"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."

"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

Something burst inside me. It was like he understood me - like we spoke the same language. Different from most people. Beyond that, I had entered into a time in my life where I felt like I'd been rushed out of the main current of progress. Some eddy had interrupted my path and now I was stuck like debris along the side of the river, watching the way the system worked instead of being a part of it. And you know what? I found out that the system sucks. And he already knew that - he agreed with me.

It's difficult to feel lost, but certainly not rare - and I had spent a lot of time wallowing in the uncomfortable truth that I didn't know what I was doing in life. It didn't help matters that I felt like a bit of a traitor to my upbringing. Not everything fit me the way that I had been told it would. The potential of my youth gave way to the cold hard facts of my burgeoning adulthood - I saw the world for what it was, and because of it I started formulating my own ideas about what it all meant and where I fit. It was a strange time, and although my friends are basically the greatest a person could ask for, they were also very young - not ideal mentors for the lost. I was looking and looking for a place to land, and my spirit was tired from vacillating between ledges.

But Kurt Vonnegut understood. It was right there - in ink. He was looking and looking, too. Neither of us could see the point. It was ok that I felt like a black sheep. He was one, too. I felt the ground solidify under my feet, surprised that it had always been there.

What happened next is terribly predictable - I chewed my way through Slaughterhouse-Five and bawled my eyes out over that damn horse's hooves. I devoured Sirens of Titan, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick, Breakfast of Champions and so on.  Each completed novel fueled my own inspiration. I wanted so badly to write something Kurt Vonnegut would read. Because of him I tried to make art, no matter how piss poor. He was (and I daresay is) my muse - I have some of his words tattooed on my body. The rest are tattooed on my soul.

When I was planning my wedding in 2007, I decided that I would invite him. I knew he was not likely to show up, but when you get married you want the people who have impacted your life to be there. It was natural then that I should want him in attendance - but, I didn't get the chance to send an invitation because he died in April of that year.

I cried silently in the bathroom at work that day, April 11th, 2007. My hero had died. And I never got the chance to tell him that he changed my life, that he was the one to cast me a lifeline in the darkness of my self-doubt. I'm not sure the letter I planned to enclose with my invitation would have ever even been seen by him, but I regretted bitterly that I hadn't sent it sooner. So it goes...

I think of him when I am stuck creatively - try to channel him sitting at his typewriter, smoking Pall Malls and writing the Truth. Or drawing something deceptively simple that will still somehow break your heart. Sometimes it helps. Other times I just feel sad that he's gone.

Bon voyage, Mr. Vonnegut. Circle back here again and again - flip backwards in time for me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Recipes: Slow-Cooker Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

If you want to feel good about what you're eating from the very beginning of your day, this recipe is one to memorize. It has all my favorite things: powerful nutrition, low fat/calorie counts, satisfying flavor and can be prepared ahead of time to provide quick meals throughout the week. I never would have called myself an oatmeal fan - and who can really blame me: all I had ever really had were microwave pouches of instant oats (which is one step away from eating paste with a sugar kicker, if you ask me) - but this recipe has made me a believer. 

So, if you eat the instant oats, give these a try - you'll find you stay fuller longer, and since you are consuming less sugar you will notice less energy dips throughout your morning - good fuel burns slowly. And this is good fuel for the body.

A side note: This recipe uses a slow-cooker. Mine is very large (6 quarts) and can make this entire recipe. If you have a smaller slow-cooker, you can easily half the recipe to fit. Also, my appliance happens to be the world's fastest and most aggressive crock pot ever! So, when it comes to cooking times, they will vary and the time it takes me will invariably be the shortest among the bunch. Because seriously, the darn thing works at hyper-speed.

Slow-Cooker Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

4-5 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 5-6 cups)
3 cups skim milk
3 cups water
2 cups steel cut oats
4 TB brown sugar
2 TB butter, cut into 8-10 small pieces
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 TB chia seeds (or ground flaxseed can be used)
1/4 tsp salt

1. Assemble your ingredients, and coat your crock pot with cooking spray (if you don't, you will be serving your oatmeal with a hammer and chisel, so try not to forget this part). Add all ingredients to slow-cooker and stir. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 6-8 hours (mine is always done in 6 hours flat). Try not to lift the lid during cooking, or you will need to factor in more time. It is done when the apples are beginning to brown, and you can see brown crunchy bits forming at the edges of the oatmeal.

2. Stir finished oatmeal, making sure to free up any crunchiness at the sides and incorporate well. Spoon oatmeal into bowls to serve immediately, or store in the fridge in individual serving containers to eat later. When re-heating the oatmeal in the microwave, add 1/2 cup milk and nuke for about 2 minutes, stirring half-way through. Top your oatmeal with walnuts, maple syrup, raisins, or eat it as is - all are delicious and only add to the yum factor.
 Oatmeal is not so photogenic, eh?

The first time you try this recipe will be a bit of an experiment. You need to figure out how long it will take your slow-cooker to complete the cooking process, so definitely try it during the day. If you are one of the lucky few whose crock pots take 8 hours to complete the recipe, you can try making this overnight while you are asleep. If you are halving the recipe to fit in a 3.5 quart cooker, your window of time for completion will be 5-7 hours. If you do not have steel cut oats - you'll need to go buy some for this recipe. Regular oats will not work. They will turn to glue, and your recipe will be a wasted effort.

All together, this yields about 8-10 servings. It is perfect for a couple to share throughout the week.

Happy breakfasting!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


When I'm running, I imagine there is black smoke venting from the top of my skull. Each step builds a bigger fire. I push all my dark emotions, all of my fear, all of the things that plague me towards the flame, transforming them into the acrid cloud moving up and out. I wash the sudden internal emptiness with gladness, relief. Light pours into places once dark and I am reborn. Running is the tool. I use it to create a clean reality. Gain sanity. Find zen.

I wasn't always like this. I used to hate to run. But that was because I didn't have the guts to push or the tools to build a demolition fire.

Before, when I would attempt to break my own barriers I would inevitably give up. Face them, and turn away. Run away. It could be something as simple as the physical discomfort I felt during distance running, or something more complex. It didn't matter - whenever I had doubt in my abilities I would inevitably think that failing was worse than not trying. Backing down showed smarts. Knowing your limits was a sign of maturity. Yes, yes - it is truly shocking what information we can cognitively align ourselves with sometimes. And I'm not sure it would have changed, if it wasn't for Willow.

It was motherhood that shattered the first wall.

I never thought I could live without sleep. During those excruciating first weeks of parenthood, if someone had given me the option to quit, I would have. Gladly. But there is no option to give up at 3 AM when a little baby is depending on you, so I learned to adapt. I learned to take command of my ego just a little bit more. Pull back on thoughts of myself, give more than I thought possible. Not always in the most beautiful or graceful manner, but I learned how to push beyond. It was just the beginning.

Doors tumbled open in streaks. Sometimes I felt like I was crashing through them - pulverizing so many mental blocks like steel doors I could kick off the hinges. Shattering my own conventions. It felt amazing.

I learned how to cook, I brought art back into my life. I ran - and I ran farther than I ever had.

I re-learned how to learn. Then, I learned how to unlearn. In fact, I felt like I was figuring it all out for the very first time. I felt the concrete reality of mastering the learning process, but what I was really feeling was evolution. I was feeling it happen - to me.

It made me think suddenly how people always say that having kids changes you. I had always taken that to mean that it changed just your heart or your schedule. But, no. That's not it. Those things are involved, sure. But the real change is more than emotional - it's a warping of your physical fabric. It is an opportunity for reformatting the brain, completely rewiring yourself - should you so desire. There are certainly varying degrees to which people take advantage of this, but I believe when the birth of your child is an earth-shattering experience for you, you get the chance to build the world back up again. And it can look however you want it to.

It didn't happen overnight, but I did rebuild my world. I built it around my little earth-shatterer and my husband and me. And I built it into something much better. Stronger. Even more adaptable. I not only look for challenges these days, I invite them in for tea. It's something I really never saw happening. I would look foreign to an old me, should one come hopping out of a time machine.

So I adapt through a pinch in my side and drive my legs harder. I think about that smoke coursing out from the top of my head, thick with the burning of all my doubt, all my old selves. In doing so, I am evolving, unlearning, re-learning. Venting black smoke. Becoming.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Recipes: Simple Blueberry Muffins

My basic goal as a cook is to find or create simple recipes for family favorites with relatively few ingredients. Add to this my hope to eat only organic, whole foods and my philosophy on food is defined: Let's try to make it ourselves, and let's try to make it healthy. So, I was enormously pleased to find this recipe, have a great first experience with it, and to tweak it into a regular player for team Chamberlain. Kudos to Gale Gand who originated this recipe for her cookbook Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs - I have changed only a few minor things here to make these perfect for our family. I hope you like them, too.

Simple Blueberry Muffins

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 TB sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin tin by greasing the cups or lining them with paper liners. In mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add 1 cup sugar and mix well. Add eggs, vanilla, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and baking powder. In a small bowl, smash 3/4 cup of the blueberries and add them to the batter. 

3. With mixer running at low speed, add 1 cup of all purpose flour then 1/4 cup milk. When these are well incorporated add the whole wheat flour and the remaining 1/4 cup milk. Fold in remaining blueberries by hand. 

5. Combine 2 TB sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full of batter and sprinkle the tops of each with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. 

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until tops are golden brown. Mine are always done in 25 minutes flat. Allow the muffins to cool for 15-20 in the pan before turning them out.

This recipe yields 12 big muffins - so, I will regularly make these muffins as a BFD (Breakfast for Dinner) treat and then we have the remainder on hand for a quick breakfast option over the next couple of days. Enjoy!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Music for Cool People: 3/8/13

They use part of this song in a promo for Curious George on PBS Kids. Let's ignore the obvious fact that this song is steeped in the drug culture of the 1960's and just say, "Yeah PBS!" Because this song is dope (no pun intended).

Grazin' in the Grass - The Friends of Distinction

Get funky. It's Friday.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Black Magic Woman

You ever read any of The Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher? If you haven't, you should. They are fast, pulpy and imaginative - sometimes a bit repetitive, but altogether fun and enjoyable to read. Forget a lame synopsis though, the only thing you really need to know for this story is that the books are about a modern day wizard and because of his magic he has major difficulties relating to electronics. Because his mere presence will interrupt electronic signals and fry circuits, only the most rudimentary machines will work for him - forget computers. Got it? Good.

Flash to reality, and I'm likely sitting jaw-dropped in front of yet another piece of electronic equipment that just won't work for me, or with me, or whatever. The screen may be stuck on a repeating, flashing, seizure-inducing image, or in the midst of a forced reboot. There is definitely a high probability that some kind of official-looking message containing the words "factory settings" or "restore mode" is staring back at me with startling hostility. I just have problems. Even my beautiful iPhone, just birthed from its packaging required me to restore to factory settings THREE times within the same day. And each time after I had entered in a few contacts by hand.

Right around Ryan's birthday last year, I nuked our laptop somehow. I was writing a blog post, switched to a separate screen and then when I came back to try to type - BLACKNESS. It was one of the more dramatic incidents I had experienced, and as this was only the most recent event in a string of minor problems I had caused (technologically speaking) it brought Ryan to his feet and set him pacing around the kitchen. Eventually he threw up his hands asking me, "What on EARTH is wrong with you?" I gave an exaggerated shrug and said, "I have no clue, man. I'm SO sorry." He shook his head, "This is like Harry Dresden. You walk by our laptop and the thing basically explodes - his magic fries all the electronics he comes near." I gave him a sarcastic look behind my smile. But he continued on about the logic of the entire thought, and the fact that he always knew I was special anyway. He winked away the last part, and I smiled again. We never really get mad about anything, and this was just a minor annoyance anyhow - magic involvement or not. I left him then to his impending repair attempts, and went on about my own thoughts.

All kidding aside, it did bug me that complicated electronics seemed to sputter at my touch. Was it magic? HIGHLY unlikely. It could be that I was just bad with computers - but, in my defense, my bad internet habits were few and relatively mild. But still, I'm definitely no computer scientist, so that could be it. Or was I just unlucky? Perhaps, but my bad luck did seem to have insane aim - hitting me in the electronic device Achilles each time. My thoughts of luck turned to the possible existence of Karma. Then fractured to another tangent, and another. Some far away part of my brain even worried intensely about the possibility that Artificial Intelligence will take over the Earth someday and I'd be one of the first they'd ax. "You just don't get us." They'd say.

Then I settled on a topic that Ryan and I had discussed several weeks prior that suddenly seemed to have a possible connection - he had brought up a concept he'd read about called a noosphere. Basically, it was the idea that we all have energy coursing through our bodies, and out around them in a sort of orb. Think an aura. A real, physical thing containing energy. And the interesting part (aside from getting to think of yourself as a cloud) is the way that our noospheres may be interacting with each other, influencing each other - all the energies of people, animals, and things able to push together. It might be a part of our existence that we have forgotten, or never really discovered. We might be able to unite through that, conduct it together - and what kind of world might that be?

I love the idea of being a conduit. Conducting energy as I see fit. Not the creator of the energy, but the one who harnesses it - directs it. The blessing of this life is just that, I think. That we may conduct the forces residing within us in whatever direction we choose.

Should the existence of a noosphere be the explanation for my mysterious and unintentional black widow-ing of computers, I feel badly. I would certainly never intend to set my phasers to kill. And should it be magic, meddlesome and swift, I'd be pissed - Harry Potter is like my dream life, so being a witch and not knowing it? NOT FAIR. You can bet your life I will be cutting out a lot of right-clicking and some other habits I have been informed might be troublesome, so any user error should shrink to a minimum. And hopefully it is not a curse of bad luck for I haven't the foggiest idea how to begin fixing that.

An aura of energy around each of us. Individual magic sipped straight from the belly of the Universe. Perhaps they are one and the same. The laptop was fixed and so far remains functional. My thoughts are mild and appreciative when we are in each others' presence - just to be safe, you know?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Music for Cool People: 2/27/13

In high school, a teacher of mine gave the class a side assignment during a poetry unit to bring in a song that we thought qualified as poetry. I struggled to find one since I loved music so much. But, in the days of no internet and limited resources at home, I never did find anything to bring. Man, I wish I'd known this song then. I would have knocked the class's collective socks clean off.

Also, "We're just a habit, like saccharine." is probably the best line in any song ever. EVER.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Recipes: Allison's Baked Chicken Tenders

Let's face it friends: those bargain chicken tenders in your freezer? Really not the best option when it comes to dinnertime fare. Yes, they are fast and easy, but they are so processed that you have no clue what it is exactly that you are eating. This should scare you. So! Try making some chicken tenders from scratch - I swear this recipe is relatively simple, well-liked by all and quite tasty.

Allison's Baked Chicken Tenders

2 chicken breasts cut into about 4 tenders a piece
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup regular bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
3/4 tsp salt plus extra for seasoning
1/4 tsp pepper plus extra for seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 paprika
2 TB butter cut in small pieces

 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a baking dish (mine is 9x13) with cooking spray. Combine all breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, garlic powder and paprika in a low bowl. Lightly beat eggs in a separate bowl. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

2. Coat each chicken tender in the egg and then in the breadcrumb mixture. Place the finished tenders in the baking dish. Side note: I will usually sprinkle a bit of extra breadcrumbs on top of each tender to ensure they are their most delicious.
3. When all of your tenders are in the baking dish top each one with a few chunks of your prepared butter. I usually aim to have about 3 chunks per tender. Bake in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until tenders are golden brown.

You can serve these tenders with anything - I served them with roasted broccoli (natch). They taste excellent alone, but pair well with the usual condiments (honey being my favorite). Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

All the Winged Horses

As a child I used to daydream that there were pegasi flying through the sky outside the school bus window. Flitting in and out of the clouds, only I could see them. One would fly down and I'd climb out of the bus window and onto its steady back. From there we'd go anywhere. Everywhere.

My daughter takes a baby doll and propels it across the living room shouting, "WE CAN FLY! WE CAN FLY!" and I feel like I'll just die from the intensity of emotion hurling itself at my ribcage.

Such a sweet gift, the imaginings of childhood. The realness that dreams have. The magic inherent in everything - in a baby doll, in the clouds outside of a school bus. I love that parenthood allows me the privilege of reliving this part of life, albeit from a vicarious place. It fills me with happiness for Willow and with wonder. Curiosity and pride. All of those things.

But, sometimes the emotions springing forth from me are born from a place of pain, of a certain sadness. I have this longing to feel those things again, to believe them possible the way she does - it creates a feeling akin to jealousy. Not really jealousy of any serious variety, but it's there nonetheless. I find myself wishing I was her for a moment so I could see wonders, too.

But I just can't do it. I don't see winged horses in the sky any more. I know they are not there.

I also know this will not be the only time I feel this way - I mean, isn't it sort of a built-in part of parenting? I definitely heard the line "don't wish away your childhood" many a time growing up, and blew it off as old people being dumb. But now, I see it for what it probably was - a tiny twinge of impractical jealousy that gets redirected into a responsible statement of truth. Not that it will do your kid any good - they'll most likely blow it off just like you did.

She throws down her doll in favor of her blocks, and begins building a tower - a home to a princess or an ogre or maybe a vampire. I join in - saving leaning towers and building up places that are lacking stability. Redirecting. Doing the adult things - the responsible things.

I sigh and keep stacking. Trying desperately to dream up a pegasus or two.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Music for Cool People: 2/20/13

I got into the car this morning and had an immediate and overwhelming need to hear the song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." THEN! I turned on the radio AND IT WAS PLAYING. Well played, Universe. Well played.

It's Crosby, Stills and Nash, of course.
And can I get a shout-out for the "sofa on the porch" motif? So epic.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thanks Wholly to a Pop Culture of Insanity

Yesterday began as a brisk, cloudless morning. I decided to take advantage of the odd weather and went out for a run on my usual 5K route. My path takes me through an industrial park, and although I do see occasional people filing into their respective offices, I hardly ever run into anyone on the sidewalk.

So as I turned a corner and headed toward my halfway point I was surprised to see a man walking several hundred feet in front of me. It became quickly obvious at this point that I was going to have to pass him once to get to my halfway mark and then again when I turned around to head home on the same path (which is my typical routine). I weighed the decision for a second - then I noticed something else odd about this guy... he seemed to be more shuffling than walking. He was bent a little to one side, moved slow. My mind was made up - I wasn't going to get any closer to this dude. So, I turned around and headed home with the intention of taking an extra lap around the neighborhood to make up the distance.

As I ran the other direction I started laughing at myself because I realized the real reason I turned around when I did. I wasn't scared that this guy was some sort of criminal with a gimpy leg. My first thought: ZOMBIE.

Thanks pop culture!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Music for Cool People: 2/17/13

Because if someone is going to write you a love song, it might as well have a beat to burn cities to...

Ray LaMontagne - Meg White

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art: Yellow Floral

Recipes: Company Couscous

I named this recipe Company Couscous just now (like, right this second) because it occurred to me that my usual naming convention of just listing the main ingredients was a tad, well, boring (i.e. I used to call this recipe Mushroom and Zucchini Couscous - snore, right?) Also, this is totally a dish I would (and have) served to company, so the name fits. It has a lot of veggie power, snappy flavors, and involves couscous which is one of my very favorite things. If you're not already cooking the hell out of couscous on a regular basis, get with it! Couscous is ready in like 5 minutes, guys. It's AMAZING. Anyway, this is a dinner staple at our house which we eat as our main dish, but it would also make a great side dish so, be creative!

Company Couscous

1 cup chicken broth (vegetable broth may be substituted)
1 cup uncooked couscous
2 1/2 TB olive oil, divided
3/4 tsp salt, divided
3/8 tsp pepper, divided
3/4 TB lemon juice
3 medium zucchini, chopped into bite-size pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
4-5 portobello mushroom caps, chopped into bite-size pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese plus 2 TB for garnish
1 TB chopped fresh chives (optional)

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 TB of olive oil. Next, add the mushrooms and season them with 1/4 tsp* of salt and 1/8 tsp* pepper and combine thoroughly (*these amounts are approximate, use your judgment and season them as you would any regular sauteed veg). Saute, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened and have released liquid (about 5 minutes). Pour cooked mushrooms and all liquid into a bowl and set aside.

2. Put the skillet immediately back over the heat (no need to rinse) and add 1 TB of olive oil. Bring to heat and then add the chopped zucchini, 1/4 tsp* salt and 1/8 tsp* pepper (*approximates) and stir to combine well. Saute, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

3. After you get the zucchini going, bring 1 cup of chicken broth (or vegetable broth) to a boil in a small saucepan. When the broth begins boiling add 1 cup of couscous and stir. Then cover the pot and remove it from heat. Wait at least 5 minutes. Uncover the pot and add 1/2 TB olive oil, 3/4 TB fresh lemon juice 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/8 TSP pepper. Fluff/stir with a fork to combine well.

4. Once your zucchini has softened, add the mushrooms plus liquid back into the pan and cook together for a couple of minutes, then turn off heat.

5. Pour the couscous mixture directly into the pan along with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and the chopped chives (if you have them available - which I did not). Stir to combine thoroughly. Serve warm with a smidge more Parmesan cheese on top. This recipe makes 4 servings at 320 calories and 13 grams of fat a piece.

Everyone should eat more veggies - so give this a try instead of a typical meal with meat. I hope you like it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Crying to the Music

One of my Dad's favorite memories of me as a kid happens to also be one of my very first legitimate memories - it happened when I was 3 or 4 years old. Back in 1982, an awesome movie was released called "The Secret of Nimh." Practically as soon as they released it on VHS a copy found its way into my hands - and I watched it as often as my Mom would let me. One day as the movie was finishing and the credits began to roll my Dad walked into the living room and found me sitting there sobbing. Just gutted. You're probably thinking to yourself, "Wait a minute. That movie has a happy ending. Doesn't it?" You're right. It DOES end happily. The story had nothing to do with the reason I was crying. I was crying because of the music.

This is the song: Flying Dreams by Jerry Goldsmith and Paul Williams

I remember it, crying to the music because it made me feel like I had to. I was internalizing it, making it part of me and being moved to show it. It was really the first time I had ever showed that I was able to connect that way  - and since music has been one of the great loves of my life, I hold this moment near and dear to my heart.

Fast forward about 30 years (yikes) - my lovely little girl is playing nicely with our electric keyboard in the guest room while I put away some laundry in other parts of the upper level. She likes to play the demo song and press all the keys and buttons and kick her feet to the music - it's pretty cute. Anyway, on this particular day she managed to press the keys in just such a manner that the demo song switched to something new. (I'm not kidding you guys, I had NO CLUE that thing could even do that). Then she switched the song again - this time to a little harpsichord ditty. A fourth song popped up and then a fifth! Finally a big, soaring number (using the "strings" setting) that sounded like it could have been the theme for a Jane Austen film. This one made her stop. The strings kept flying, but I realized I wasn't hearing the usual cacophony of kicks and clicks that had accompanied the other demo songs. 

I was immediately suspicious - a kid that is quiet AND out of your sight is never a good thing. So, I dropped what I was doing and stepped into the hall where if I leaned a bit to the right I could just catch a glimpse of the piano bench. As she came into view I immediately noticed her shoulders - they were stooped just slightly. Her head was bent forward so a swath of blond hair covered her face. Her hands sat still in her lap. By all accounts, she appeared to be simply sitting quietly and listening. Very unlike her.

My fears for her safety now squashed by seeing her, I crept slowly closer to satisfy my growing curiosity instead. As I closed the distance between us my ears picked up some sniffling noises, and the truth came crashing in: she was crying to the music - just like me. Slow tears rolled heavy down her cheeks and fell with audible drips to the bench below. Her shoulders shook slightly as she pulled in catching breaths. I had to clutch my chest to ensure my heart wouldn't explode from loving her so much in that moment.

She noticed me finally, turning up her miserable little face - and that's when she really lost it. She sobbed for several minutes and clung to me and kept repeating the word "SAD." It was a strange mix of sympathy, wonder and pride that filled up my chest as I consoled her. I knew just how she felt - I knew just how the music had made her feel. I mean, "Flying Dreams" is by no means the only song to ever knock me off my feet emotionally - I have cried to countless tunes in my day so my understanding was palpable. I also felt an overarching sense of gratitude - I won't beat around the bush, the fact that my kid can emotionally connect to music already is a dream come true for me. I would love to nurture her love of music and to encourage her to explore it. So I felt jubilant, too - standing there holding my wretchedly sad daughter, sublimely happy. Grateful. 

I'll remember it forever - and I'll certainly bring it up when they interview me for Behind the Music someday.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Music for Cool People: 2/10/13

My sister shared this song with me just yesterday and already I'm not sure how I ever lived life without it. Warning to those of you with little ones: some of the lyrics are explicit (but awesome at the same time). You may want to listen to this when they are out of the room, you know, unless you want them walking around calling everyone a motherf*#@er.

 Thrift Shop - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Featuring Wanz