The Sound of Silence

Dad,

I write these words knowing that you are not here to read them.  It’s been five days since you died.  Five days since you took your last breath and let go.  You died slowly.  Painfully.  Not at all the way I ever imagined you would. I always imagined you would go swiftly, quickly, and hopefully without pain.  I always figured I would get a phone call to say that you had passed away.  I didn’t expect to be with you, to watch you in your final few moments.

After a lifetime of beating the odds, they finally caught up with you.  In a hospice room, on the first day of Fall, you left this world.  Did you know it was the first day of Fall?  Did you somehow choose to walk from this world into the next with the change of season?

Did you hear me say that your room overlooked a butterfly garden?  I hope you did.  Because I know that you always associated butterflies with your mother and believed that’s how she came to visit with you after she died.  When I looked out from your hospice room, the garden will filled with them.  As sad as it was to  hear you labor to breathe and realize that your death was so near, seeing all those butterflies was reassuring.  It made me think that maybe they were there to guide you on the next step of your journey.

The day that you died, you seemed to be peaceful and calm.  Not like the night before when you were restless and fidgeting, picking at your clothes, and still trying to climb out of the bed even though your legs would not support you and you had lost the use of your left arm.  I wonder where it was you meant to go.  What did you see that was powerful enough to make you want to get up?

The look of your eyes haunts me.  Once so clear and bright, they were milky and dull with sickness at the end.  And yet somehow, the night before you died, you opened those eyes and recognized me.  You knew my name.  You knew that I had just gotten back from Alaska.  And there was enough of you still there, in that dying body, to crack a joke or two.

When you asked me for a hug, at the end of those few minutes of awareness, I should have known that you were getting ready to go.  You were only a hugger when there were goodbyes being said.  But in the moment, that thought didn’t occur to me.  And now I wish I would have hugged you longer and held on tighter.  Did I even tell you that I loved you?  I can’t remember.

And I can’t remember what your laugh sounded like.  I try to hear it in my head and there’s nothing.  It’s as though the night three weeks before you died when you were surrounded by friends, laughing and carrying on, had never happened.  But I was there.  I saw you laughing.  I heard you laughing.  I just can’t hear it now, no matter how hard I try.

What I can hear is the sound of you breathing the morning you died.  You weren’t hooked up to any machines.  There was no heart monitor peeping or respirator rising and falling to muffle the sound of your labored breaths.  There was only your raspy and gargled breathing.  And it was the absence of that sound, the silence of your room, that told me you were gone.  You waited until we had stepped out of the room for a moment, and you slipped away.

It’s been five days of my mind racing, trying to mentally grab hold of bits and pieces of you.  The way you tried to teach me how to properly hold a knife and chop.  How you passed on your love of driving with the windows down, even in the dead of winter.  The way the whiskers on your cheek, usually clean shaven, softly bristled under my fingers when I touched your face for the last time.  How you could see, and convincingly argue, six sides to any given issue.  The fact that you did not allow chicken to be cooked or served in your house and yet you asked for chicken noodle soup when you got sick.  The amount of knowledge that you had.  These are the things that I didn’t read in your obituary.  These are the things that made you who you were.

I wish I had known you more as a person and not just as a parent; to maybe have understood you a little better.  64 years is not a long life but I’m glad that in that time you were able to see me grow out of my youthful arrogance and find my way in life.  I’m glad that during our last phone call I told you how much I admired and respected the attitude you took during your illness.  I am grateful that we connected through the food I made to try and comfort you.  And I thank you for your final gift of waiting until I got there to say goodbye.

Advertisements

Heidi’s Baked Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a frequent guest at our table.  It’s usually the overnight, crock pot variety because I can’t be trusted not to hit the snooze button (three or four times) in the morning.  Since that leaves very little time for fixing a proper breakfast from scratch, you can often find us reheating a portion of the crock pot oatmeal and fancying it up with dried fruit or jelly.

I printed out a few different recipes for baked oatmeal because The Universe sent me to them and sometimes you just need to shake things up a little bit.  I know that crock pot oatmeal is  reliable but that doesn’t mean that I can’t check out the competition.  So yes, I cheated on my breakfast.  I cheated on something that has never let me down; something that has been nothing but loyal to me.  And for what?  A little excitement?  A little newness?

Maybe it’s the guilt talking but as I got to know a few different incarnations of Baked Oatmeal, I couldn’t help but compare it to Crock Pot Oatmeal.  One was lifeless and dull; not even worth the trouble of turning on the oven to bake.  While another made me want to actually get up an hour earlier a couple of times a week to ensure a constant Baked Oatmeal supply. So what did I decide?  As much as it pains me to say this, I have to stay in my long term relationship with Crock Pot Oatmeal.  I blame that choice on butter, maple syrup, milk, and eggs.  Because those are the things that make me want to inhale an entire batch of Heidi’s Baked Oatmeal in a single sitting.  Those are also the same things that contribute to my expanding bottom line.

I suppose it’s possible to tweak this oatmeal so it’s more bottom line friendly.  But the thought of doing so results in Sad Wendi Face.  {tangent} For a 40 year old, it is not a good look. {end tangent}  Besides, that would be like telling yourself that it’s ok not to maximize your potential.  And how hard was the lesson about living up to our potential drilled into our collective heads?  Far be it for me to say that your baked oatmeal shouldn’t be all it could be.

So maybe instead of messing with a good thing (a la New Coke), this just needs to be elevated to Limited Edition status.  Hey, that sounds rather important and fancy doesn’t it?  Exactly like the baked oatmeal that has fulfilled it maximum oatmeal potential.

I guess the only question left is who wants to be the first person to come to my house for Heidi’s Limited Edition Baked Oatmeal?

Heidi’s Baked Oatmeal

Adapted from Heidi Swanson, as posted by Lootie + Doof

BAH Note: I had to tell The Mistah that he could not have seconds of this the morning I made it.  I wanted there to be leftovers.  But to be honest, I wanted to go back for seconds myself.  Without some self control, I could easily see us eating an entire batch of this in a single day….don’t judge until you’ve tried it.

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (vanilla salt, if you have it, is perfect here)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas, cut into 1/2″ slices, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8″ baking dish.

Combine the oats, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, milk, egg, vanilla, and half of the melted butter.

Arrange the banana slices, if using, on the bottom of your dish along with 1 cup of the blueberries.  Cover the fruit with the oatmeal and then add the milk mixture to the baking dish.  Add the remaining blueberries to the top of the dish and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the oats have set and the top is golden brown.

Drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top of the oatmeal and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

{printable recipe}

Pork Carnitas

My method for meal planning is pretty straight forward and usually works without a hitch.  Before I go grocery shopping, I make up the week’s menu. If the recipe is coming from a cookbook, I use a shorthand notation on the menu of the title and page.  If the recipe is from a magazine or the web, I clip the page to the fridge with a magnet.  And yes, the recipes are in order by day of the week.  So basically, as the week progresses, I work my way through the clipped pages and cookbooks.  Like I said, this is usually a pretty flawless system.

Of course, there are times when it fails me completely.  Like when I somehow misplaced the one and only carnitas recipe that I had in my folders.  Somewhere between the time I wrote that week’s menu and when I went to get cracking on carnitas, the recipe vanished.  Disappeared into thin air.  As though it never existed and I had only imagined it.  I couldn’t remember which website I had pulled it from.

But the pork was thawed and there was no substitute recipe to fall back on.  So with the help of The Googley, I found The Food Addicts and their take on carnitas.  Like the culinary equivalent of a relief pitcher in the bottom of the 9th, it came through.  Pork was seared, braised, shredded and then set to rest overnight. The next day it got broiled until caramelized and crisp before being paired with brown rice and glazed carrots.

It might not have been the recipe I intended to make, but clearly it’s the one the Universe had in mind for me.

Pork Carnitas

Adapted from The Food Addicts

BAH Note: I chose to cook this the day before I intended to serve it.  So I cooked the pork, shredded it into bite size pieces, and then refrigerated it overnight.  The next day I let the pork sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes before throwing it under a low broiler flame.  Of course, if you no likely the broiler, don’t feel as though you have to broil the pork before serving.  It would be just as good unbroiled.

  • 2 – 3 lb pork shoulder (butt), cut into 2″ cubes
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the spices in a medium bowl.  Add the cubed pork and coat the meat with the spices.

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat.  Working in batches, sear the pork on all sides, transferring the seared pork to a plate.

Once all the pork has been browned, deglaze the pot with the chicken broth.  Bring the broth to a boil and scrape any bits off the bottom of the pot before returning the pork to the pot.

Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pork is tender.  Check after an hour and add water if the level of the liquid has gotten very low.

Carefully transfer the pork to a bowl and shred into bite sized pieces using two forks.  The pork can be served directly from the oven or it can be broiled on a sheet pan until the exterior is crisp and caramelized.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Got Ribs?

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 1/14/09 at Exit 51.

Got Ribs?

Short ribs.  Braised short ribs.  Lovely bits of meaty goodness bathed in a flavorful broth.  Beef that falls apart as soon as you look at it.

My initial foray into the world of short ribs was courtesy of the Washington Post.  They raved about Mahogany Short Ribs.  So I gave them a shot.  And they were awesome.  But I can only fit so many pieces into a crockpot.  So that recipe got filed away to be tinkered with.  Only the tinkering never got off the ground.

beef_cutssvg

But then Smitten Kitchen reignited my interest in the short rib with her Braised Beef Short Ribs post.  New Year’s was fast approaching and I wanted to usher in 2009 with a special meal.  This was just the ticket.

I was intrigued by her step of broiling the already cooked ribs before serving.  As tasty as the Mahogany Short Ribs  were, they didn’t look like I wanted them to.  I wanted them dark and crusty.  I also liked that she laid out the recipe so that it can be made ahead and then simply reheated.  This is totally the key to special meals.  You don’t want to spend so long fussing over a dish that when you’re done, you’re really done.  As in you have no energy to pay attention to what you’re celebrating.  It also goes a long way to solving the problem of all the fat that renders out of the meat as it cooks.  An overnight rest in the Fridigaire allows the solidified fat to be easily skimmed off.

But I also made some changes to Deb’s recipe.  Like adding port.  I don’t have port and I don’t like the idea of buying one time ingredients.  So instead of port, I just used more wine.  I also didn’t have the holy trinity of cooking – celery, carrot, onion.  In the end, I don’t think leaving them out made a noticeable difference.  But it did let me skip straining the sauce.  Although I should have because I added those pearl onions early and they seemed to hold onto a lot of grease.  Speaking of those pearl onions, mine were frozen so if they needed to be separated from skins, I couldn’t tell.  I just roasted them up in the oven and added them to the pot.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I will wait and add them in when I reheat the dish.

And about that final step of giving the cooked meat a quick turn under the broiler?  I honestly think that you should consider it optional.  I gave those ribs a world class sear before the braise.  And after they were done cooking, they were dark and crusty and lovely.  For me, the broil was overkill.  But maybe you’ll feel differently.  You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Be sure to serve this up with something that will capture all the glorious braising liquid.  And don’t be afraid to use boneless short ribs.  When I went to the store, I ended up getting a mix of bone-in and boneless.  To be honest, I liked the boneless cuts the best…but that’s just between us.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 3 pounds beef short ribs, bone-in or boneless
  • 4 whole sprigs thyme
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 bag frozen small pearl onions
  • up to 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/3 cup diced carrot
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups hearty red wine
  • 3 cups beef or veal stock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, to come to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season them generously on all sides with salt and pepper and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

When it’s time to cook the short ribs, heat a large Dutch oven over high heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot and almost smoking. Place the short ribs in the pan, and sear until they are nicely browned on all sides. (A splatter screen is your friend here.  If you have one, I highly recommend you use it.) Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to sear the meat in batches. Do not crowd the meat.  Add additional olive oil as needed, especially if you are browning the meat in batches.

When the ribs are nicely browned, transfer them to a plate to rest.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme springs, and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to caramelize.   If you don’t have onions, celery and carrot on hand, skip this step.

Add the balsamic vinegar and red wine. Turn the heat up to high, and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Arrange ribs in the pot, lieing flat, bones standing up, in one layer. Scrape any vegetables (if using) that have fallen on the ribs back into the liquid. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours.

To check the meat for doneness, remove the lid and foil, being careful of the escaping steam, and piece a short rib with a paring knife. When the meat is done, it will yield easily to a knife. Taste a piece if you are not sure.  If you cook these a day ahead, this is where you can pause. The next day, you can remove the fat easily from the pot — it will have solidified at the top — bring these back to a simmer on the stove or in an oven, and continue.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the pearl onions with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoons salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast them 15 to 30 minutes, or until tender and caramelized.  Add the roasted onions to the dutch oven and stir well to combine.

If the broth seems thin, reduce it over medium-high heat to thicken slightly. Taste for seasoning and dig in!

Crab and Avocado Salad

Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like “diet” food to you?  It sure doesn’t taste like “diet” food.

I need to reacquaint myself with some “diet” food.  The crush of buttery, sugary, fatty, and carby treats over the last twelve months has had a negative impact on my bottom line.  Seems like there are new jiggles daily.  I’ve started naming them.  So far my collection includes cinnamon roll, pumpkin spice muffins, butter, mac and cheese, and carnitas.  I need to stop the madness before I morph into someone unrecognizable.

I’m asking The Universe to give me the strength to avoid the devil of temptation that masquerades as cupcakes, french fries and boxes of wine.  Without some divine intervention, they are sure to be my downfall.

While I may be abstaining from these wonderful things for a while, I still have all kinds of tasty dishes lingering in the queue for your enjoyment.  So don’t be confused if I’m still talking about tarts, brownies, or pasta.  Most have been waiting to post for a while.  Others may be things I’ve made in moments of weakness.  But I vow never to say which is which.

Crab and Avocado Salad

Adapted from South Beach Quick and Easy

BAH Note: I suppose this could serve four people as an appetizer.  But The Mistah and I like to enjoy this as an entree and we can polish off the entire salad in one sitting.  Not that this recipe needs much streamlining but if you wanted to prep things ahead, get the crab meat and lettuce ready in a large bowl and have your dressing fixed up in a separate container in the fridge.  Then all you have to do is shake, pour, add the avocado, and serve.

Prefer to have your salad with some carby goodness? That’s easy.  Just reduce the amount of dressing you add to the salad so that it’s not “wet” before rolling it up in a soft tortilla , stuffing it into a pita, or piling it on some whole grain toast.

  • 1/4 fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 pound crab meat
  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted and cut into cubes
  • 1 tomatillo, diced
  • 1 head bibb lettuce
  • kosher salt

Shred or cut the lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Combine the lettuce, crab, and avocado in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, tomatillo, lime zest, and juice until smooth.  Taste for seasoning and add kosher salt, additional lime juice, and mayo to taste.

Add the dressing to the crab mixture and carefully combine.  Serve immediately.

Roasted Salmon in Pinot Sauce

Please don’t ask how long it has taken me to share this recipe with you.  If I answer honestly, you may begin to think that I’m holding out on you.  There’s a chance that I have already posted this either on the old blog or here.  But when I did a search for it, it came back with no results.  So I’m going to take that to mean I have not yet introduced you to Roasted Salmon in Pinot Sauce…even though I sincerely meant to.

You can forgive me, right?

Roasted Salmon with Pinot Sauce

Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups pinot noir
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 4 salmon steaks or filets
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  While the oven heats, cook the sugar in a nonstick saucepan over medium heat until it liquefies and starts to develop a brown color, approximately 10 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully add the wine.  Return the saucepan to a high heat and cook until the caramelized sugar melts, stirring carefully.  Add the rosemary and continue to cook over high heat until the sauce reduces down to about 1/2 to 3/4 cup and becomes syrupy, about 15 minutes.

Ten minutes before you’re ready to cook the fish, place a stainless steel frying pan with about 1 tablespoon olive oil in the oven to heat.  Take out the salmon, dry it with paper towels, and season with kosher salt.

Carefully remove the HOT frying pan from the oven and place the salmon in the pan (skin side down if using skin on filets).  Return the pan to the oven and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the fish easily flakes with a fork.

While the fish is in the oven, finish the sauce by adding the balsamic vinegar and butter to the saucepan.  Cook over low heat until the butter melts.  Remove the rosemary sprig, taste for seasoning, and add salt as necessary.

Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve.  Leftover sauce can be kept in the refrigerator.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Sugar And Spice Part Deux

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 1/12/09 at Exit 51.

Sugar And Spice Part Deux

The holiday season finds many of us making the same things.  And I’m always interested to see a different approach to a recipe that I’ve coaxed out of my kitchen.  Like those Spiced Nuts I made before Christmas.

They had all been packaged and shipped and I’d already moved on to the next recipe on my list when I saw Deb at Smitten Kitchen had blogged about them as well.  Her take on Candied Nuts employs egg whites and the oven while mine are constructed entirely on top of the stove.

But you know what?  Her’s looked more like I wanted mine to look.  All sandy and nubby with the spices.  Not shiny.

And I like that hers is straightforward in the sweet/salty/spicy mix and only uses three flavors.  The more complicated the flavor palette, the more chance for things to go wrong.

So although it’s absurdly early to say this is definitely what I’m going to make next holiday go round, it is at the top of my list.  Hope it finds a spot on yours as well.  I’m not going to post her recipe here because reading her post and drooling over her photos is half the fun!