Spring has fully sprung and we’re pretty darn happy about it. We got our garden planted. The girls prefer to garden in full princess dress which is pretty awesome. It reminds me of a quote I came across by the founder of Goldieblox (a really cool company to check out if you have girls!) where she said, “There’s nothing wrong with being a princess, we just think girls can build their own castles too”. Seeing them prance around the garden, digging up worms, watering strawberries, and getting mud on their gowns makes me feel like we’re achieving some kind of balance in that department.
Recognizing balance is an important part of cultivating it (or so I’m told). But it can be hard to see if you’ve been living out of balance, which I definitely have been. That’s been a real struggle for me. After all, how do you learn what you aren’t in tune with? I’m setting myself a challenge of doing yoga, meditation, and going for a walk every day for the next 30 days. I’m using Yoga with Adriene, which I’ve mentioned before and am a huge fan of. It’s all free and there are tons of different videos including one for stress and anxiety I do a couple times a week. As for the mediation I’m loving the Headspace app, it costs a little bit but is better than the free apps I’ve tried over the past months. I know I probably won’t succeed at doing all three things every single day, but I’m going to give it my best effort. I know my yoga will be interrupted, my walks might be short, and I might spend my whole meditation time thinking about things on the horizon, but I’m going to try. I’m also cutting back on caffeine, although I haven’t quite figured out if I will give it up all together. After all, I love my morning latte. A lot.
I start off every morning with a latte. While lying in bed I motivate myself to kick off the covers with the promise of a latte. I pad out to the kitchen, flip the switches on the base of the La Pavoni, and wait for the machine to warm up while I pour whole milk into the steaming pitcher, grind my coffee and tamp it into the filter, and most importantly, scoop a sizable dollop of salted caramel into my favorite mug. Come to think of it, it may actually be my addiction and love for salted caramel that lures me from the comfort of my bed, rather than the coffee/caffeine… although I’m obviously addicted to that too.
I make salted caramel by the rather large jar full. It’s so basic, but so satisfying to make. Sugar, a bit of corn syrup, water, butter, heavy cream, salt. I love the way the sugar mixture starts off thick, slowly melting and transforming, bubbling aggressively at first and then slowly concentrating and giving into itself until it begins to turn color. Then it turns thin and darkens quickly to the color of… well, caramel. When the butter and cream are added the reaction of the cold dairy hitting the scalding hot sugar is wonderfully exciting, and slightly terrifying the first time you do it.
I use salted caramel in so many applications. I drizzle it over vanilla ice cream that’s been sprinkled with crushed pretzels, slather it between layers of cake, dip tart green apples into it, top dense panna cotta with it, slip it onto meringues… the sweet possibilities are endless. I double the following recipe, but as I’ve said, I’m seriously addicted to the stuff. Doubling the recipe, at the rate I use it, should be enough to last a month… long enough to support the 30 day challenge I’m setting for myself. Which is perfect cause nothing is a better motivator than caramel.
SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbs water
2 tbs corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
Combine sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Stir constantly as the sugar melts, foams and bubbles, and finally starts to change color. Once it’s light golden, move the pan from the heat and continue to stir until it turns a deep, amber color. Immediately add in the butter and stir quickly to melt. Add in the heavy cream (the caramel will bubble up), stirring carefully and constantly. Add in the salt and stir until it’s dissolved. Carefully transfer the caramel to a glass container and allow it to cool. Caramel will keep in a covered glass container in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.
Yield: 1 1/4 cup
SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
Once again, my silence around here has extended far beyond my intentions. February, and most of March, slipped by in a series of dramatic, and quiet days. I celebrated my 33rd birthday, had surgery to remove a high risk mass from my breast, took Lu in for two rounds of superglue sutures (on her chin (stairs) and forehead (coffee table), respectively), and one round to remove all the superglue and stitch her forehead up with three sutures, and laying low to recover from the surgery, stitches, and a late round of the seasonal flu. Once we worked through the initial frustration of cabin fever, it was kind of wonderful to find our rhythm of staying in our pajamas all day for days at a time, enjoying the spring downpours and rainbows from the comfort of the couch and backyard, weeding and prepping the garden for spring planting, sipping lots of Sleepytime Tea and hot toddys, and watching pretty much every Disney movie ever made. It’s made the last few days of, “Oh my goodness we actually feel human enough to join the outside world and it’s 55 degrees out!”, so much sweeter.
In the last weeks of recovery and quarantine, I found myself slipping out in the evening to go grocery shopping rather than my usual mid-morning routine of loading up the kids and doing a full grocery shop with them in tow. At first it was because I wasn’t supposed to lift anything (or anyone) heavy, and then because the kids had such rotten coughs and fevers that it would have been socially irresponsible to take them out in public. I have to admit, while I love taking them shopping with me, my quick, short, solo trips to the grocery store have felt like little escapes from the confines of our living room littered with tissues, thermometers, DVD cases, abandoned teddy bear tea parties, and discarded princess dresses. I found myself gravitating towards somewhat repetitive, simple, ingredients and staples; the kind of ingredients that quickly become a crisp, tart salad for lunch, or a fast, simple, quiche or scramble for dinner. I’m sure that next week, when we’re all feeling 100% we will get back to our menu planning and all-together grocery shopping, but I’m going to keep that quiet, efficient, simple, alone-time grocery shopping in my back pocket for those evenings when I need a moment to myself.
It may not seem like much, but as a stay at home, quasi-homeschooling, work from home mom/wife/sister/friend/daughter/person, it’s all about finding those little moments of quiet. It’s about making myself a latte before I get my kids their breakfast even though they’re chirping at me, pulling at my legs, and acting as though we’ve never ever fed them before; the scalding hot shower extended by five minutes; taking an extra long time to walk down the driveway to the mailbox to get the mail; the moment of pause after the kids are buckled in the carseats and the car is loaded with the stroller, water bottles, hand sanitizer, pull ups and a change of pants and underwear “just in case”, sunscreen stick, and half a peanut butter and honey sandwich slapped together for my breakfast that will ultimately be consumed by my kids, to stand inside the front door and take three long, deliberate breaths even though we’re already running late; the extra ten minutes after the kids are down for naps to pull together a refreshing, salty, sweet, tart, crisp, nourishing salad just for me. All of those little moments add up, and give me enough time to remember that I’m doing a good job, that I’m a good mom, a good wife, that I am enough even though I fail often, lose my temper, have to ask for help way more often than I’d like, have muffins I forgot about in my purse and moldy apple cores in the base of my stroller, and a mountain of laundry that could rival Everest.
Anyway, I got a bit off topic, I wanted to share with you my recipe for that “refreshing, salty, sweet, tart, crisp, nourishing salad” I mentioned in my rambling list of ways I’m learning to put myself first. I’ve made variations of this salad, which is, at it’s core, a Fennel, Apple and Celery Salad, but I think I’ve recently come up with my favorite version. The salad begins, as I said, with licorice-y fennel and tart apple, thinly sliced, and is quickly transformed with the addition of crisp, tender celery, crackly celery seeds, salt flecked Parmesan, and Meyer lemon zest and dressing made from sweet, peppery olive oil and fruity Meyer lemon juice (if you don’t have Meyer lemons, a regular lemon will do). Whether it’s raining outside, or there’s sun streaming through the window, or you’re exhausted and recovering from a late night administering Ibuprofen and Tylonel to your little ones, or you’re elated and restored from a long, perfect night’s sleep this lunch will either aid in or add to your restoration with it’s optimistic texture and bright, clean flavors. I’ve made this salad for solo lunches, to accompany roasted chicken, and I’ve even been known to make it for breakfast; that’s the kind of cravings it fosters.
CELERY, APPLE AND FENNEL SALAD
1 sweet apple, cored and thinly sliced
2-3 center ribs of celery (leaves included), thinly sliced on the bias
2 small bulbs fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
palmful of fennel fronds, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
juice of 1 Meyer lemon (about 1/4 cup)
about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (equal parts lemon juice and olive oil)
freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil and season it to taste with salt and pepper. Set it aside.
In a large bowl toss together the apple, celery, fennel, fennel fronds, celery seeds, Parmesan, parsley, and lemon zest. Toss immediately with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.
Serves 2 as a main meal, 4 as a side.
FENNEL , APPLE, and CELERY SALAD
This might sound kind of silly, but I recently realized that I hardly ever make “one pan meals”. Even for the simplest things I end up using separate pans: sweating the onions in one, roasting the potatoes on another, cooking the chicken in yet another. So I decided that I was going to attempt a one pan meal. See? It sounds silly. But the continued effort to simplify our space, routines, and well, everything, led me to the realization that while I love to dirty up lots and pots and pans and baking sheets and roasting dishes making fun, elaborate, meals it could be nice to have a small list of one pan meals that I could throw together for busy evenings.
I have to say that my first attempt at this turned out so wonderfully that I might become a convert before winter turns to spring. Kyle was working late one evening so it was just me and the girls. I had big plans to keep things simple and relaxing. I’d picked up a copy of Inside Out for the kids, which I ended up watching with them and loving, and I planned out my one dish meal with things I knew they liked. I bought two bone in, skin on chicken breasts and lots of wonderful root vegetables: carrots, new potatoes, red onions, fennel, and garlic. I also had a bag full of Meyer lemons from a friend’s backyard in California, so I brought a few of those into the mix too. This time of year Meyer lemons can be found at most grocery stores and they’re a wonderful, fragrant addition to lots of dishes!
I made the meal early in the day which involved about ten minutes of simple chopping of the vegetables, slicing of lemons, a couple hefty glugs of grassy olive oil, turns of fresh pepper, and large pinches of kosher salt, and a sprinkling of herbs de Provence (we have some locally made “herb de Provence with dried lavender and it was perfect). I laid it all out on a roasting sheet along with the chicken breasts, covered it and put in the refrigerator until it was getting close to dinner time. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for keeping it simple, planning ahead, and being prepared and proactive. Frankly, I didn’t even care how good it was because I was just so happy to have it all set ahead of time!
But let me tell you, it was so good I was giddy! It’s been a while since I’ve felt actually giddy about a meal. Happy, satisfied, and pleased, yes, but not giddy, and I was giddy about this one. The vegetables were caramelized to perfection and they’d taken on the flavor of the chicken and the lemons in just the right way. The fennel, carrots, and red onions were sweet and provided a wonderful contrast to the salty potatoes and chicken.
For my carb crazy kids I served the veggies and chicken over bow tie pasta, drizzled the lot with the drippings from the roasting pan, and shaved a bit of sharp parmesan over the top. I suppose that’s cheating since I had to use a pot to cook the pasta, but since cooking pasta doesn’t exactly dirty up the pot I’m giving myself a pass.
The dinner was delicious. We ate it in our pajamas and then headed straight to the couch to watch Inside Out. When Kyle got home from his long day of work I told him about the meal. I was so excited about it I made it again the following night so he could enjoy it too! I made it for him over pasta because it was delicious that way, but you could also eat with some crusty sourdough bread, like we did with the leftovers.
ROASTED CHICKEN AND ROOT VEGETABLES
2 large bone in, skin on chicken breasts
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, and roughly chopped
6 small red new potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
2 large carrots, trimmed, peeled, and roughly chopped
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Meyer lemon, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
herbs de Provence
freshly ground black pepper
Optional for Serving.
bow tie pasta
freshly grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375oF.
Toss all of the chopped vegetables, garlic, and lemon in a large bowl with about 1/2 cup of olive oil, several turns of pepper, a large pinch of salt, and a healthy sprinkling of herbs de Provence. Dump the lot onto a roasting pan, nestle the chicken breasts into the vegetables, drizzle them with olive oil and season them with plenty of salt and pepper.
Put the roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast for about an hour, until the chicken breasts are cooked through, tossing the vegetables around once or twice as it roasts. When the chicken is done, transfer it to a plate to rest for a few minutes while the veggies finish roasting.
Crank the oven up to 425ºF and roast the veggies for an additional ten minutes or until they’re lovely and caramelized, tossing them once if needed. Removed them from the oven and discard the lemon slices.
Carve the chicken from the bone, and then slice it however you desire. Serve the vegetables and chicken immediately over pasta tossed with the drippings and topped with Parmesan, or on it’s own with some crusty bread to sop up the drippings.
ROASTED CHICKEN AND ROOT VEGETABLES
Since this is my first post of the new year, I guess I should begin by wishing you all a happy new year! We’ve spent the time between Christmas and now mostly hibernating. Gigi turned five years old and we spent her birthday as a family. I discovered Yoga with Adriene and it’s been a hugely beneficial addition to my days. My book club has been reading Great Expectations; the going was a little slow and tedious at first, but now towards the end I can’t put it down. I also started Brené Brown’s online semester class called Courage Works and it’s really, really great. Other than books, yoga, and a few sporadic play dates with friends things have been wonderfully quiet and contemplative. It’s been so nice to pull back from work, responsibilities, and obligations and just spend lots of quiet time settling in to the new year.
After a rather difficult 2015, I kept expecting all of that nice, quiet time to manifest into something bigger, and that one day I’d wake up and feel refreshed and renewed. I thought that one day I’d wake up and feel like myself again. But since the month of January has sidled by in a series of cozy grey days, piles of laundry, quite a bit of snow, trips to the library, and excessive cuddling and I still don’t quite feel like myself, I have instead come to the realization that I just have to start somewhere. Starting by sharing a recipe seems like the right place to begin.
The perfect recipe for this week is Thai Coconut Soup with Udon Noodles and Tofu; partly because it’s cold and wet and grey here, and partly because there is no wrong time for Thai Coconut Soup. I shared this recipe ages ago back on my old site, but somehow it missed getting transferred over and I’ve made some adjustments to it over the years, so here it is refreshed and renewed. It’s reassuring to know that a recipe can have a fresh start, even when it feels hard to manifest your own.
This soup is all about the broth which is rich and creamy thanks to peanut butter and coconut milk. The real flavor punch comes from the sofrito: slight heat from the chiles which, when cooked, mellow into a subtle warmth; fragrant and floral lemongrass; vibrant and zingy fresh ginger; assertive garlic and shallots; pungent and irreplaceable fish sauce. The broth is rounded out with a little brown sugar and a kick of lime juice. When it’s ladled into a bowl along with the cooling udon noodles, tofu, and cilantro the result is a wonderfully balanced, perfectly satisfying soup.
THAI COCONUT SOUP
WITH UDON NOODLES AND TOFU
1 14oz package of Firm Tofu (this needs to be drained so make sure to note the extra time in the directions)
1 Tablespoon honey
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 stalks of lemongrass, peel off the outside layer and quickly chop the tender centers of the stalks
2 Fresno red chilies, seeded and deveined
2-3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and quickly chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 large shallot, quickly chopped
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 14.5oz can coconut milk
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 quart chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup lime juice (about 1 1/2 limes)
10oz Udon noodles
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
To drain the tofu, wrap it in paper towels, and set it on a plate. Place another plate on top to help press out the water. Let the tofu drain for about an hour. Mix together your honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil to make a marinade for the tofu. After draining for one hour, cut the tofu into 1″ cubes, place in a bowl or dish and pour in the marinade. Gently toss and allow it to sit while you prep all your other ingredients for the soup.
Put all the ingredients for your sofrito in a food processor (lemongrass, chilies, ginger, garlic, water, fish sauce, and shallot) and purée it. Set aside.
In a bowl, gently whisk together all of your soup base ingredients except for the oil (coconut milk, peanut butter, chicken broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, and lime juice). Set aside.
Heat your vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Put in your sofrito and cook it, stirring constantly for a few minutes. Once it smells really fragrant and sweet add in your coconut milk/broth mixture. Bring to a low simmer and cook the soup for 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring another large pot of water to a boil. While you’re waiting for it to come to a boil, heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add a bit of vegetable oil to the pan and allow it to heat up. Carefully add your tofu cubes to the pan using a pair of tongs. Sauté the tofu until it’s nice and golden brown on all sides. Transfer the tofu to a plate and set aside.
By now your water should be boiling, toss your Udon noodles in and cook them until they are al dente, then drain them.
Stir the soup well and ladle it into bowls, add in some noodles, top with tofu, cilantro, and the thinly sliced shallot. Drizzle with a tiny bit of sesame oil and serve immediately.
THAI COCONUT SOUP WITH UDON NOODLES AND TOFU
This past September I lost someone very dear to me. Her name is Linda. Linda was a wonderful cross between a mom, grandmother, aunt, advisor, and friend. When you’re raised primarily by a single parent the village that rises up around that parent is so important. Linda and her husband Dave were at the center of that village.
Three Christmas Eve’s ago, Linda was diagnosed with cancer, and this Christmas Eve she won’t be there. Nearly every Christmas Eve our family has gathered with Linda and Dave to celebrate, open gifts, sing carols, eat delicious food, and stuff our faces with Linda’s incredible caramel corn. When my siblings and I were young, it was Linda and Dave who surprised us with the most elaborate and wonderful gifts: a trip to Disneyland for our whole family; a kitten for me, my brother, and sister. I know that gifts aren’t the most important part of Christmas, but it should be noted that Linda was the most thoughtful gift giver and maker. She put so much time and thought and care into the gifts she gave whether it be a literal litter of kittens at Christmas, a handmade knitted blanket in anticipation of Lulu’s birth, or a sewn tooth fairy pillow for Gigi to use when she starts losing teeth.
All of Linda’s gifts were given and made with so much love. The gift we looked most forward to from Linda each year was her caramel corn. When we were kids we got small tins filled with it, as teenagers she gave us empty Red Vines containers packed full of it, and as adults we got lots and lots, not only for ourselves but for our boyfriends, girlfriends, and then husbands and kids. Two Christmas’s ago I went to spend a morning with Linda so she could teach me how to make her beloved caramel corn.
Linda’s Caramel Corn is sweet and salty and crunchy; it can be nibbled at or eaten by the handful. It’s the best caramel corn I’ve ever eaten. I treasure the memory of making it with Linda, and setting out to make it as our Christmas gifts this year will be bittersweet and important.
What a gift that I get to take her with me into this holiday and future Christmas’s with her recipe tradition to carry on. I get to stir the caramel and hear her voice echoing instructions in my ear. I get to clean as I go which is something Linda was a pro at, and something I’m not very good at doing. I get to smell the rich caramel as the popcorn bakes and cools, and keep her in my thoughts all the while. I get to eat a handful of it and taste all those Christmas memories, and I get to miss her. Missing her is a blessing because it means that I got to know her and love her and share some of my happiest memories with her. I get to picture her smile when I give the caramel corn to my brother, sister, husband, brother-in-law, daughters, nephews, and mom. Linda made and and gave her caramel corn with so much love and maybe that’s what made it so delicious; so bringing her love, along with mine into the making of this Christmas’ batches is probably the most important element of making it.
This recipe makes a lot of caramel corn, enough to fill three gallon size ziplock bags to the brim. The recipe could be easily cut in half. If you cut it in half still use the full amount of love, there’s no need to reduce that. Happy Holidays to you all.
LINDA’S CARAMEL CORN
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 quarts (about 24 cups) freshly air popped popcorn
Preheat the oven to 200ºF.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring over medium high heat. Boil rapidly to the hard ball stage (250ºF on a candy thermometer).
Remove from heat, stir in baking soda quickly but thoroughly and pour at once over popped corn in a large roasting pan, stirring and tossing gently as you pour. Stir gently until all kernels are coated with a bit of caramel.
Bake at 200ºF for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
Carefully, turn the caramel corn out onto a counter covered with sheets of parchment or wax paper. Allow to cool before breaking it up a bit.
LINDA’S CARAMEL CORN