Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Rolls

Last week our dear, sweet, 14-year-old dog Claire passed away. Colin and I adopted Claire just before we got married and, in many ways, she was our first child. Claire was a classic dog. She loved food, loved to catch frisbees and balls, loved food, loved to go on walks, loved food, loved water, loved to chase birds in the backyard, and, oh, did I mention, she loved food. She was a wrecking ball of sunshine, high energy and full of love. She was not afraid to take up the space she needed in this world. And she was affectionate and loyal. She always wanted to be with us no matter where we were, in the yard, in the kitchen, asleep in bed. I loved her profoundly and life without Claire Bear feels odd and empty. 

Its natural after a loss to take a step back from the world and take a critical look at where you are, to reevaluate priorities. I called Colin from work one afternoon during my break and asked him to explain to me what he thinks is the point of being here. What is the thing that keeps us all going, the reason we persist? After a night to think about it, he replied, "To enhance the world/life/those around us/ourselves aesthetically. That means pushing back the forces that take away or compromise our creativity." 

I can work with that.

Sunday we had dinner at our friends' house. I like to bring a fresh baked loaf of bread when we go to their house. Bread is my favorite food to bake. Working with yeast dough is a relationship. You can't be one-sided or overbearing. You can't be overly assertive. You can't simply follow a recipe. You have to be flexible, observe, listen, respond. It takes time. It takes patience. It's a dance. You have to let go of expectations because it rarely turns out exactly the way you think it should. Sometimes it doesn't turn out at all. But it's worth the time and effort because nothing compares to a mouthful of fresh baked bread.

Inspired by Colin's words I wanted to make something beautiful for our friends who have been there for some much of our lives. I found a recipe called Happy Bread: rich, savory rolls arranged in a pan like a bouquet of flowers. But I decided to make mine sweet. I used the same dough as my overnight cinnamon rolls. Instead of cinnamon and sugar, I filled the rolls with thin layer of apple pie-like filling made from grated apples and a splash of rose water. The result was a soft, rich roll with a bright, cheery, swirl of sweet apple. 

This recipe makes two pans of rolls so it's perfect for sharing and bringing a little happiness into someone else's life.

Happy Rolls
makes 2 pans (24 small rolls per pan)

3/4 cup buttermilk
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 to 4 cups of all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast 
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 egg white, for the wash

2 large or 3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and grated
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rose water, optional
1 tablespoon potato starch (you can substitute cornstarch)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup powdered sugar
2-4 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour buttermilk into a measuring cup and stir in the yeast. Allow the yeast to sit until dissolved, about 10 minutes, occasionally stirring gently. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix the buttermilk mixture, egg yolks, egg, sugar and butter until just combined. Add 2 cups of the flour and salt and mix until moist and combined. Switch to a dough hook and on slow speed add another cup of flour. Continue to add flour 2 tablespoons at a time until dough forms a ball and pulls cleanly away from the side of the bowl but is not too dry. Continue to mix for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Turn the dough on a surface dusted with four and knead for 30 seconds. 

Form the dough into a ball a place in a large clean bowl. Put a plate over the bowl and place in a warm draft-free area. Check the dough to see if it is fully risen after about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. To check the dough gently poke the center of the dough ball 1/2 inch deep with a wet finger. The dough should feel soft and spongy and the hole shouldn't fill in. If the dough feels hard or the sides of the hole swell in, let it sit another 10 minutes and recheck.

As the dough is rising, combine the apple, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl and gently toss. Allow the apples to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain the apples then add the remaining sugar, rose water, starch, and salt. Place the ingredients into a sauce pan and heat over medium high heat stirring frequently. The liquid in the mixture will come to a boil. When the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes after boiling, remove from heat and allow to cool. Melt the stick of butter and allow to cool. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.

When the dough is ready, gently deflate it in the bowl and turn it out onto a surface lightly dusted with flour and form into a ball. Allow it to rest a minute but make sure to place the bowl over the dough ball to prevent it from drying out.

Cut the dough ball in half then cut each half into four pieces (you will have eight equal pieces).

Roll each section into a rectangle. Spread each rectangle with melted butter and 1/8 of the apple mixture. 

Roll each section up into logs, pinching the ends closed and along the sides. When finished, place all the logs on a baking sheet and place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Once the logs are firm, cut off the ends and set aside. Cut the center section into 4 triangles. 

Place the triangles from the logs along the edge of the pans (four logs per pan) to form a ring. Arrange the end pieces in the center (eight ends per pan). 

Cover the pans with a damp cloth and allow to rise 30 to 45 minutes. Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water to make a wash and brush over the rolls.

Preheat oven to 350F. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

Mix all the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 teaspoons of water and adding more to make the glaze thinner if needed. The glaze should be runny. Drizzle over the rolls. Serve warm.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Be Kind: Nourishment

"One cannot think well. love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." -Virginia Woolf

When I was a college student I developed some pretty unhealthy eating habits. I would run out of the door in the morning with nothing in my stomach then spent the day in back to back classes. I might snack on a bag of chips or a granola bar, if I was feeling healthy. Come 2 or 3 in the afternoon I would be drained both physically and emotionally and that's when I would hit the fast food. Being hungry all day wasn't easy but for some reason I was determined to control my body's needs.

Skip forward a decade. Colin and I decided to drive with the kids up to Washington state one year for Christmas to visit family. After a hellish trek through snow-pack mountain passes we arrived tired, hungry, and stressed out beyond all measure. And that was pretty much how I stayed (traveling throws me for a loop) until Christmas Eve. One of Colin's relatives had us over for dinner and I think it was first really meal I'd had since we left home. To sit down to a home cooked meal and talk with people I love was heaven.

What I noticed in a really profound way was that, while the meal itself didn't change anything about my situation, it changed the way I felt about it and I could see a way forward. Where I felt like I was drifting, that meal tethered me to the ground.

Now I try to make sure I eat a healthy, balanced diet throughout the day. When I notice myself tightening up and closing off, I take a moment to breathe and the first thing I try to notice is if I'm hungry or thirsty (thirst has the same effect on me).

Take care of yourself and make sure you eat and then take it a step further and take care of someone else by providing a meal. The next time you make a casserole or lasagna double the recipe and give one to your local homeless shelter or social services facility (make sure they can accept perishable donations), or to a sick or elderly neighbor. Invite a friend over for dinner who is going through a hard time. Or find a couple of people who are concerned about the same issues as you (there are plenty of social and environmental issues to choose from these days) and have a political lettering writing or phone call potluck (I can't think of a better way to build a consciences community and work for justice and equality).

When I am feeling really out of sorts, my favorite food is simple: pinto beans and homemade tortillas.

Pinto Beans
makes about 6 cups cooks (1 cup dry = 2 cups cooked)

1lb dried pinto beans
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 or 3 dried red chili pods
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt

Sort and rinse the dried beans. Place in a large non-reactive bowl (I prefer glass or ceramic) making sure you have lots of space for the beans as they will likely double in size. Cover the beans with cool water and soak 6 hours or overnight at room temperature. Check occasionally to make sure the bean haven't absorbed all the water adding water if necessary.

After the beans have soaked, drain and rinse them throughly. Place in a large pot and add the remaining ingredients except for the salt. Cover with fresh water with a ratio of 1 part beans to 2 parts water and bring to a boil. Boil the beans for ten minutes then reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for  about an 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until tender. Add the salt about an hour after they have been simmering. A great way to tell if they are done is to remove a few beans  from the cooking liquid with a spoon. Gently blow on the beans. If the skins split, they are done. Left over beans can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen.

Homemade Flour Tortillas
makes 12

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons butter, cold, cubed
1 cup warm water

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the butter and combine with a pastry blender or with your fingers. Stir in the water. The mixture should form a ball, not too sticky, not too dry (adjust with water or flour if needed). Turn out the dough and knead for a minute or so until smooth. Cover the dough ball with a damp cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Cut the dough in half and divide each half into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece out with a rolling pin. Cook on an uncreased skillet on high heat for about a minute until the bottom has a few brown spots. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds. The tortillas should be soft with a few brown spots on the surface. Serve immediately (there is nothing like a fresh, hot tortilla). Tortillas can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight bag. To reheat, cover with a damp paper towel and heat in the microwave for 15 seconds or until warm.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Be Kind (to Yourself): Breathe

Hello everyone and Happy New Year! I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season.

I’m glad to be on this side of the winter solstice. It’s comforting to know that, while it is still cold and dark, each new day brings with it a bit more sunshine. On that note, I’ve been thinking about how to move forward since my last post and I decided that I want to bring a bit more sunshine into your lives as well.

Since my last post, I have had many of you reach out to me to give me your love and support—thank you and I love you! I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that they can relate to what I said. It sounds like 2016 was a difficult year for a lot of people.

While I have spent a good portion of the last year feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I have also found some really helpful tools to bring me back to center. I thought that it would be useful to share these tools with you. I’m sure you already know much of what I have to share, nonetheless it is easy to move away from good habits and, therefore, nice to have gentle reminders.

With that in mind, I am pleased to introduce Be Kind (to Yourself), a collection of helpful tips, practical tools, nourishing recipes, and inspirational messages to help us find peace within so that we can move through the world with a little more grace and compassion.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hello Again, My Friends! (Plus a few photos from the past year.)

Hello again. It has been a long time. I don’t know what to say for my absence other than I woke up one morning about a year ago with a profound sense that what I had to say was not worth saying. I'm not being self-deprecating, like I’m unimportant. Just the opposite. The voice I had been using felt inauthentic. And if I wasn’t going to be authentic, what was the point?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Washington DC: The Bonus Trip to Chicago (Part 3 of 3)

During a recent job interview the hiring committee asked me how I deal with ever-changing priorities. Situations change constantly and not just with work. I can't tell you how many times I've set out to cook something only to find out I don't have one of the ingredients. Sometimes it's a simple adjustment: no brown sugar, substitute white sugar and molasses. Sometimes it's not that easy, like trying to make pumpkin bread with no pumpkin.

Things aren't always going to go as planned no matter how fool-proof the plan may seem. That's life. I've slowly come to realize, after much trial and error, the importance of learning to adapt to my situation. Maybe the pumpkin bread becomes banana bread. Maybe I scrap the whole plan and bake chocolate chip cookies instead. 

So how do I deal with change? 
First, by evaluating my situation.

For example, Thanksgiving morning I set out to bake brown butter pumpkin cupcakes and an apple pie. I had made a double-crust pastry for the pie and had all my ingredients set out for the cupcakes when Nick looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh. I kind of want pumpkin pie." I couldn't blame him. Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving tradition. 
The Situation: I needed to add pumpkin pie to my menu.

Next, I re-prioritize my tasks.

Could I adjust and make a pumpkin pie instead? Yes. I had all the ingredients for both pumpkin and apple pie but only two single pie crusts. Not ideal for apple pie. So what would I do for the apple pie? Did I need to make an apple pie? Yes, or Colin will be very sad. Did I have time to make a new pastry? Nope. 
The Priority: Figure out how to make an apple pie with a single pie crust.

Finally, I draft a new plan by creating a list of steps I need to take.
The Plan: Use one crust for the pumpkin pie. Use the other crust for the apple pie and top it with a crumble topping.
No problem! Easy peasy!

But it's not always easy peasy, is it?

Like take our flight home to New Mexico from Washington DC. Ten minutes before our plane left Dulles we found out the second leg of our flight, from Chicago to Albuquerque, was canceled. And that we couldn't book a new flight that day or even the next day. The earliest we could get a new flight home was two day later.

The kids were crying because they were tired from walking all over DC and being in an airport all day. They were scared because every person on the airplane was freaking out about their connections being canceled. We all just wanted to be home, see our dogs, and sleep in our own beds.

The Situation: We were not getting to Albuquerque that day. We could get off the plane and stay in DC without a place to stay and without our luggage. Or we could follow our luggage to Chicago.
The Priority: The kids are upset so my priority was to reassure them, keep myself from freaking out, and make the most of the situation. We were nowhere near home but we were together. Colin and the kids were off that Monday and I could call in sick from work, no problem. We've always wanted to see Chicago. This was our chance!
The Plan: Find a place to stay in Chicago. Book a new flight home. Make arrangements with my family to watch our dogs and house a couple more days.

No problem! Easy peasy!

A woman on the plane from Chicago helped us find a good hotel room in downtown Chicago at a great rate and we made reservations before we even left DC. She also recommended some places to see and restaurants to eat at. Basically, she turned being stranded into a vacation. She is an angel and I never learned her name. Whoever you are, I want to say thank you so much for helping up!

We flew into Chicago and booked a flight home but found out that we could not get our luggage, it was headed to Albuquerque without us.

The Situation: We had no luggage but we did have a flight home and a place to stay in the meantime.
The Priority: Get to the hotel and eat dinner. It may be inconvenient, but we could survive without our luggage. I was pretty sure Chicago had a Target or some other store where we could get toothbrushes and whatever else we needed.
The Plan: Get to the hotel. Eat dinner. Find supplies. Go site seeing.

No problem! Easy peasy!

We decided that since it was 14F and our winter coats were on a plane without us, we would walk to the Art Institute of Chicago. We could spend the day perusing art in a warm building. And the Institute had an amazing cafeteria with gourmet food. We were eager to buy our lunches so we could eat when our bank cards were declined.

"Are you from out of town?" the cashier asked us. "The bank probably just put a hold on your account because of all the out-of-town charges. It happens all the time, just call them."

The Situation: No cash (we'd used that for a cab). No bank card (account frozen). But we had emergency credit cards.
The Priority: First, get the kids food. Second, deal with the bank.
The Plan: Use the credit cards to pay for the food. Eat lunch. Call the bank. Spend the rest of the day enjoying Chicago.

No problem! Easy peasy!

Except, I forgot to mention it was Sunday. And our bank is not open on Sundays.

I have to admit that at this point I lost my cool. I had done an excellent job rolling with things up until that moment. I did not follow my steps. I did not adapt. Instead, I had an ocular migraine. Then I pulled myself together and got back on track.

The Situation: The bank is closed on Sundays. But there had to be a way to get the hold off our account, even on a Sunday.
The Priority: Try again to contact the bank.
The Plan: Check the banks website and call any and every number I find until I get in touch with someone who can help us.

A slight hiccup but no problem! Easy peasy!

And after some digging I found a number for cards with holds. We called and had the freeze on our bank account instantly lifted and spent the rest of the day enjoying the art. The rest of the trip went smoothly and we made it back to Albuquerque without a hitch.

See: No problem! Easy peasy!

I'll admit it wasn't the ideal way to see Chicago but it was an adventure. Colin and I have agreed that we need to go back and do Chicago right. But I'm not getting on a plane any time soon.

And, by the way, I was offered the job and I accepted the position. That means I no longer have to commute to Santa Fe for work! Yay!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Washington DC: The Monuments (Part 2 of 3)

That Washington Monument is hard to escape.

We spent our second day in Washington, DC walking around the Mall touring the Memorials. On the walk from our hotel to the Mall we cut across a park only to find our path blocked by a building surrounded by a big black fence. 

Me: "I wonder what that building is. I guess we'll have to go around."
Nick: "Mom, that's the White House."
Me: "No it's not... Holy crap! That is the White House!"

I'm sure Secret Service thinks I'm an idiot.

This is were my lack of planning let me down. I did not know that you could get tickets to take a tour inside the monument. You can pay for tickets in advance or go the day of and get tickets free on a first-come-first-served basis. But by the time we got there (at the late hour of 9 am) the tickets were all gone for the day.

The Washington Monument...again. What inside? I do not know.
We walked from the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial...

World War II Memorial star.
...On to the Lincoln Memorial.

"...(A)nd my very favorite, the Lincoln Memorial. It's this crazy statue of this giant monster sitting on a chair that represents all of America's enemies." -Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation

The Vietnam War Memorial:

The Vietnam Memorial. I looked but didn't find my dad's name. That's good because that might mean he's a zombie.

The Korean War Memorial:

Reflection of the Korean War soldiers.

The Martin Luther King Memorial:

Around the Tidal Basin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial:

And around to Jefferson Memorial:

George Washington was the Commander-in-Chief during the American Revolution and the country's first president. Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Thomas Jefferson. What did that guy even do anyways? Oh yeah, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Good job, Thomas.

After lunch and another round of the Natural History Museum we took a quick tour of the Sculpture Garden.

By this point the sun we setting low in the sky and the building would only be open for another half hour and we still wanted to see the National Gallery and the Capital Building. 

In the end, we didn't actually go into the Capital Building. It was just a little too far away and it would have been closed by the time we got there. I calculate that we walked over 10 1/2 miles that day. Good job, Nick and Mina!

On our final morning we found a coffee shop and had pastries then toured the residential streets behind our hotel just to see how Washingtonians live.

We were less than impressed. Just kidding!

Before we knew it it was time to head to the airport for our flight back to Albuquerque, with a brief layover in Chicago, or so we thought....

That is until we got on our plane and found out:

We won* an all-expenses-included** vacation*** to Chicago!!!

*By "won" I mean that we were forced against our will when Midway International Airport canceled all flights out of Chicago.
**By "all-expenses-included" I mean that we had to pay for all our expenses.
***By "vacation" I mean an unanticipated and highly stressful sojourn in which we had to take additional time away from work and school to be stranded in a city far away from our home and luggage.