Yesterday was my 34th birthday. I received a card from my husband which revealed to me that 34 years is 12,419 days. So often we only think about birthdays in the context of years. What did we accomplish in that year? Are we better or worse off than the year prior? Did we live up to our expectations or fall short of our destination? But his card got me thinking in terms of days. To me, days are much more manageable than years; I can better handle the expectations of a given day rather than the enormity of an entire year. I can enjoy my small successes, ponder my missteps, and consider that if I am so lucky to get another day, how might I improve? How might I make the day of another person better? Or sometimes, I think about spending the following day simply enjoying the gift of being alive.
Are we too hard on ourselves? Do we forget that our days are limited? I think sometimes the answer is ‘yes.’ Perhaps we take for granted that another year will pass, we’ll have another birthday, and life will go on. I’m not trying to be a downer here – my point is to be grateful for each individual day we are allowed, and to spend those days doing for others and doing for ourselves. I don’t “live each day as though it’s my last,” but instead, I try to just be the most authentic “me” on that particular day.
I spent my 34th birthday being grateful for my husband, my family, and my lovely friends. I spent it feeling proud of how far I’ve come in accomplishing my personal goals. I spent it reflecting on the mistakes I’ve made, knowing I’ll make more, and I’m okay with that. I spent it eating wonderful food with my dear husband in this great city I call home.
I thought about 12,419 days. Sunrises and sunsets, the change of the seasons, miles traveled, apartments and houses, parties, classes, books read, walks taken, hugs given, tears shed. I am so, so grateful for all the days. Thanks to those of you who read this blog. No recipe today, just reflection and gratitude.
Sweet honey cornbread and black coffee for my birthday breakfast.
The most gorgeous bouquet of flowers given to me by my husband.
Lunch with the best guy.
Celebrating 12,419 days.
Thanksgiving has to be one of my most favorite holidays. Even though it was a week ago, I’m still dreaming of the sausage stuffing made by my friend, Holly. The delicious smell of roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts with garlic and rosemary still lingers in my kitchen. The turkey…oh, the turkey! Pieced out and slow-roasted to a golden brown – pure heaven! We also enjoyed a boozy version of cranberry relish spiked with vodka and Grand Mariner, and a lovely kale caesar salad that has become a specialty of my friend, Pat.
The table was set with my great grandmother’s china.
Golden and delicious dinner rolls, made by yours truly.
The turkey, pieced out and ready for roasting. I kept it simple with olive oil, lots of kosher salt and black pepper.
Apple pie in lieu of pumpkin and I’m fine with that.
We took the advice of my friend, Alex Adkins when it came to the wine. You might remember him from my previous post regarding pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner. Here they are in the order in which we sampled them – each are distributed by Quail, and can be found in local retail outlets.
2012 Cave de Cleebourg Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France (~$16)
2012 Il Cuore ‘The Heart’ Chardonnay, Mendocino County, USA (~$15)
2011 Dupeuble Beaujolais, imported by Kermit Lynch (~$15)
Alex could not have been more right in his pairing suggestions! We did, in fact, begin with a bottle of Prosecco; it paired wonderfully with the chicken liver mousse, as well as the caramelized onion and shallot dip I prepared for pre-dinner snacking. We went ahead and tried a Gewürztraminer with the apps as well, and boy howdy! was it delicious! It was crisp and bright, slightly sweet, and even a little bit effervescent, if I might say. It cut the fat of the mousse and the dip in a remarkable way, and didn’t leave a cloying sweetness behind in its wake. We thought it transitioned well from our bit of bubbly Prosecco.
For dinner we tried a Chardonnay, as well as the Beaujolais, and found that they were both excellent partners to the veggies and proteins on our plates. My husband described the Chardonnay as having a “hi-hat crispness” and I felt it was bright and sharp in the most gentle way possible. It was buttery, but not heavy, with just the right amount of acid to counter the turkey and gravy.
The Beaujolais had to be my favorite of the wines, but that might be because I enjoy red wine during the cold weather months. This particular Beaujolais comes to us via Kermit Lynch, one of the preeminent wine gurus/importers of our time. It is a lush, fruity wine, that was neither too light, nor too heavy to pair with the turkey, roasted potatoes, and the delightful sausage stuffing crowding our dinner plates.
Special thanks again to Alex for suggesting wine pairings for our Thanksgiving dinner. I hope all of you had a lovely holiday spent with friends and family…stuffing yourself and being thankful.
Alex will return in future posts, so if you have any wine-related questions, be sure to ask them here and together, he and I will address your inquiries!
I’m a list-maker. Phew, I said it. It’s out there. I feel so much better now. Yes, I make lists. I come from a long line of list-makers. My mother makes lists, my grandmother makes lists, my aunts make them…you get it. Lists are in our blood. Before I knew it, I was addicted to the satisfaction I got from crossing a big, fat line through each item on the list. Each line meant a tiny victory for me. Some lists are simple and fun, like what is needed at the grocery store. Other lists, however, might as well be Mount Everest: the endless list of books I want to read, places I want to travel, home improvement projects, general life goals. You know, lists that remind me of what little progress I’ve made. Lists that mock me and, in turn, get moved from the top of the stack to the back of a drawer.
If you’re at all like me, you have several lists going at once. At the moment I have a list of all the projects and papers (and their due dates) I’m working on for this semester. Because we’re closing in on the end, the majority of that list is crossed off, and I’d be lying if I don’t stare at it and think to myself, “You’re awesome, Sara. Look at all those big, fat lines. You’re the LIST MASTER!” Okay, that last part might be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, seeing the completed list makes me feel great. Until I look at the list sitting next to it…staring at me…frightening me…intimidating me with one simple word: THANKSGIVING.
Yes, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our home this year. Last year I cooked for just Scott and myself (and the dogs – I mean, who are we kidding, right?). But this year, we’re having our dear friends, Pat and Holly, over to eat with us. The four of us try to get together at least once a week for dinner, cards, or to watch a television show, but we’re always invading their home. This time, I wanted to have them over to our house. But here’s where my lists are getting the better of me…
“Finish the dining room”
For whatever reason, I decided to work on the dining room this weekend. By “work on” I mean I used an electric sander for the first time, created an unreasonable amount of dust, and then (also for the first time) skim-coated the lower third of our dining room walls in preparation for painting. “But why, Sara? Why would you do that when Thanksgiving is less than four days away?”
I did it because it was on the list, that’s why.
“It’s okay,” I tell myself. “Our friends won’t mind that they have to sit in a partially-finished dining room. As long as it’s dust-free and there is a table set with food and wine, they’re good.”
The wine. I hadn’t even thought about the wine. That is where my friend Alex Adkins comes in. Alex knows his wine. He’s been in the hospitality business for quite some time and his cheeky, laid back attitude makes wine seem approachable. He knows what he’s talking about, and also knows that many others are lost in the woods when it comes to picking a good bottle of wine. I sent him a list of the menu items my friends and I are preparing and he was kind enough to give me some tips and suggestions when it comes to pairing styles of wine with the foods of Thanksgiving. Oh, and this year, we’re doing apple pie rather than pumpkin. The horror!!
“Thanksgiving is almost always a challenge to match. Most people are happy to drink what they like because the diversity of styles and sweetness of the food on the plate at any one time wreak havoc of the best laid plans.
To start: a light, refreshing sparkler is nice. Prosecco (from Italy) and Cava (from Spain) are mood lifters. Who isn’t brightened by the effervescence? Unless one isn’t ticklish I guess. Make sure that they are dry and save any sweeter sparklers for dessert. Too much sugar too soon on the palette can cause fatigue. As for reds, a lower alcohol wine such as Beaujolais, Villages or a young Cru, is a great choice. The French drink these a lunch as a matter of national pride. Light ales/lagers would work too, especially if the snacks are toward the salty side.
For the main event: Whites – Chardonnay (yes, I said it!), Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. In each case, wines with a little age help to match the texture of the food. Chards with oak-aging will stand up to the richness and butteriness of the spuds and gravy. Who doesn’t douse their plate with a boatload of gravy? A drier Riesling Spatlese should also match the texture of most of the food, especially the turkey itself. Look for examples from North America or Australia. As for the Gewürztraminer , find an Alsatian. Period.
Beaujolais could certainly continue into dinner, especially if food is served earlier in the afternoon. Too much alcohol leads to afternoon napping, great at your parent’s house, but who wants to be the guy in the corner not holding up his end at Pictionary? Used to be me, until I discovered Beaujolais!
Pinot Noir is a player here, especially from California or Oregon. As long as the food isn’t overly spiced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Zinfandel, red that is. California Zins that are fruity, with hints of spice are often recommended because they match so many different notes in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Sonoma Zins probably match better than Lodi Zins. I would serve this with an evening meal due to the much higher alcohol content. Some Zinfandels can approach 16% alcohol.
For dessert: A sweet sparkling wine, such as Moscato, could work well with the apple pie, as might a tawny port or madeira. Remember that coffee and wine don’t match, though. So any guests who request both should be asked to stand outside for a few minutes to rethink her/his position on that.”
Many thanks to Alex and his thorough breakdown of Thanksgiving wine styles! Now that I know what to pair, I can happily cross that off my list. I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with those you love. Eat, drink, and be thankful for all the things that make life so great. And don’t worry so much about your lists…they’ll still be there when the dust settles.
Guys, for the last five weeks I have been involved in a practicum experience as part of my degree; I have been working with a wonderful English teacher and her 8th graders every morning and Friday was my last day. I absolutely loved my experience and the conclusion was bittersweet. I was sad to say goodbye to the students I worked with, but I was happy to be able to get back in the kitchen and start blogging again.
As you all know, I love roast chicken. I posted about it a couple of years ago, but I wanted to revisit it. This time, I chose to keep it even simpler; no veggies, no herbs, no roasting pan, no nonsense. Just a chicken, some kosher salt and black pepper, and a skillet.
We’re in the midst of a lovely fall here in Omaha. The air is crisp, the leaves are slowly changing, and I’ve pulled out all my sweaters from storage. This is my favorite season, so it only seems fitting to pair my favorite season with one of my favorite dishes. And besides, I love to make my own chicken stock, so the more roast chickens, the merrier, right??
There are a few pieces of advice I want to pass along when planning to roast a chicken. The first would be to purchase the best quality chicken you can. Since we’re not dealing with a ton of herbs and spices here, we need to rely on the quality of the chicken. If you have a higher-end market in your area, go there. If they sell organic chickens, buy one. You’ll pay more than your average grocery store, but it’ll be worth it. And think of how wonderful that homemade stock is going to taste, as well!
Secondly, a hot oven is your friend. Crank that puppy up, but keep an eye on your bird! A hot oven will ensure a crispy skin and who doesn’t love that?
And finally, let your chicken rest at least 10 -15 minutes before you even think of carving into it. Resting allows for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, which will result in a moist and flavorful bite!
Roast Chicken (adapted via Thomas Keller)
4- 4 1/2 pound organic chicken
freshly cracked black pepper
Pre heat oven to 475ºF.
Place the chicken on a cutting board or plate and, using paper towels, pat dry the inside and outside of the bird.
Make sure it is thoroughly dried, as this will help to ensure a crispy skin.
Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the chicken. If you don’t know how to truss, simply tie the legs together with some kitchen twine. Make sure to tuck the wings behind the chicken.
This next step I like to do over the kitchen sink:
Heavily salt the outside of the chicken. Don’t be shy; make it rain on that bird. The salt will give the chicken a lovely flavor, color, and also allow for the skin to take on a crispy texture.
Grind some black pepper on the outside of the chicken and then place it in a 10-inch skillet.
Roast at 475ºF for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 450ºF and continue to roast until skin is golden brown and juices run clear, another 35-40 minutes. An instant-read thermometer placed in the thigh should register 160ºF.
Remove from oven and allow to rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10-15 minutes.
I like to serve this with roasted veggies, stovetop polenta, or a simple green salad.
This semester has been absolutely hectic and my absence from blogging has been weighing on me. I apologize to those of you who follow and read my musings and recipes; hopefully this delightful and hearty soup will make up for my inability to keep more than a few plates spinning at the same time.
We’ve entered Autumn in the midwest; my favorite season. The air gets crisp and clean, the windows are open, and the sweaters have been unpacked. I love baking and cooking during this season, as it lends itself to some of my favorite recipes: roast chicken, shepherd’s pie, chicken noodle soup, lasagna and chili.
Recently I was craving the latter, but was also craving a change. Rather than go with the usual tomato-based chili with pinto, black, and kidney beans, I opted for simplicity: chicken thighs and cannellini beans.
If you’re so inclined, you can make this with ground chicken, but Scott and I prefer a more robust chicken chill, which is why thighs were chosen. Also, as with most chili, you can decrease or increase the spice level based on your personal preference. Add in a 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, or perhaps chop up a jalapeño and add it to the pot with the onion and bell pepper. If you’re not interested in using white wine in the soup, omit it and replace it with chicken stock. Really, this chili is so flexible, so quick and easy, and so delicious that you’ll want to make it more than once just to experiment!
White Chicken Chili
Adapted from Sara Moulton’s recipe
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 jalapeño, cored, seeded and chopped (optional – if you want it spicier!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 medium cloves)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup white wine (optional – I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans (4 1/2 ounces each) chopped green chilies
1/2 cup sour cream
Serve with chopped cilantro, chopped green onions, and a squeeze of lime, if desired.
Add oil to a Dutch oven or soup pot set over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño (if using), salt and pepper and cook stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5-6 minutes. If the onions start to brown, turn the heat down a bit.
Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is barely pink, roughly 8-10 minutes.
Add garlic, chili powder, flour, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, until the flour is no longer visible. Add the white wine and the broth, whisking. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow soup to simmer and thicken for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, us a fork to mash up 1 cup of the beans. Add both the whole and mashed beans to the pot and allow it to simmer for at least 10 minutes. Stir in the green chilies. Stir in the sour cream and cook until hot. Taste and adjust flavors with salt and pepper if needed.
Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, and a squeeze of lime, if desired.
I’ve never been a gambler. Well, at least not a good one. I rarely win anything, be it a stuffed toy at the county fair, or a pair of tickets via the local radio station. This fact does not bode well for me since I have a group of friends that likes to meet occasionally for a “friendly” game of Texas Hold ‘Em poker.
We have some really, really good players in the group and I am so bad that I only play when I know I have decent cards – I’m giving away all my secrets here! In all seriousness, the game is always fun. I see it as a way to connect to friends on a human level rather than via Facebook, and hey, when we host, I always make some sort of sweet or savory snack! So, even though my friends walk away with my buy-in (all $10 of it!), at least I can say I provided something good to eat while they do it.
This time, we welcomed two newcomers into the fold. My friend from Norway, Thomas, was here visiting and he brought his friend, Anders. To mark the occasion, I felt that something chocolatey would suffice. I instantly thought about my mother’s Texas Sheet Cake. It’s quick and simple, and totally divine.
Before you make this cake, be sure that you have enough people present to eat it. It’s a BIG cake. I’m sure you could use the batter to make cupcakes, but I wanted to stay true to Vivian, my mother, so I followed her method.
When I asked her the details of her frosting, she was sure to let me know that nobody would judge me if I, in fact, chose to eat the warm frosting right out of the pan. That’s love. And in my book, this cake is a pure winner.
Vivian’s Texas Sheet Cake
2 eggs, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a half sheet pan (18 x 13 jelly roll pan) with cooking spray and dust with flour; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the eggs, granulated sugar, and 1 stick butter. Cream until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy. Add buttermilk and mix until incorporated.
In the meantime, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the baking soda; stir to combine and take off the heat.
To the creamed sugar mixture, add the sifted flour and cocoa and mix on low until combined. Add vanilla and water/baking soda mixture. When fully incorporated, pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. While cake bakes, prepare frosting.
In a medium pan, heat the cocoa, milk, and butter over medium heat until bubbling. Remove pan from heat, let cool slightly, and add sugar and vanilla and beat well with a whisk or electric beaters. Spread frosting on warm cake and sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.