2013 In Review (Thanks for a great year, readers!)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,900 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Green Soup

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If you’re anything like me, you tend to overindulge during the holiday season – we’re not even to New Year’s, yet – and then regret it later.  I know that after rich, decadent meals and equally sinful desserts, all I want is a Big Salad, à la Elaine Benes.  My body craves vegetables, leafy greens, and no meat whatsoever.  Let me introduce to you the Green Soup.

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High-Contrast Cookies

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Yesterday I spent roughly 5 hours babysitting a pot of bolognese slated for dinner that evening.  My friend Pat loves making fresh pasta (as do I) and when I said I was planning to make a bolognese, he offered to provide the pasta.

I’m officially on break from school and loving it.  No papers to write, no projects to complete, no academic reading to do.  Rather, I’m spending my days reading books I want to read (i.e., The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter), writing letters, watching movies, and spending quality time in the kitchen.  That quality time includes laborious dishes like bolognese, but I don’t mind one bit.  Something wonderful happens when a pot of bolognese is allowed to simmer for many hours; deep, silky flavors develop and the entire house benefits from the lazy cooking process.

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This is Thirty-Four

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.

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Sweet honey cornbread and black coffee for my birthday breakfast.

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The Wine List (Thanksgiving Edition Part 2)

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.

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The table was set with my great grandmother’s china.

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The Wine List: Thanksgiving Edition

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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.

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Roast Chicken (Again, Because Why Not?)

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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.

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White Chicken Chili

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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.

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Vivan’s Texas Sheet Cake

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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.

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Braided Blueberry Cheese Danish

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Last week I had the pleasure of spending some time in lovely Madison, Wisconsin.  My dear cousin lives there with his wife and three darling children, and it has been 13 years since I last visited.  It was due time, for sure.  We spent a lot of time at the house, but we also had some chances to check out what Madison has to offer in terms of food experiences.

A couple of friends of mine also live there and gave me an extensive list of places to try.  Sadly, I was only able to check out two of those places, but one of them, La Brioche, was such a home run that I had to try my hand at one of their signature pastries – the cheese Danish.

Their cheese Danish is very straightforward, but I wanted to try something different.  I scoured the Internet to see what I could find that included blueberries (because I had a HUGE container of them).  I found a few, and picked the best elements of each one.

I made my own puff pastry, but I am not going to include that recipe in this post.  Instead, I’ll urge you to buy a puff pastry from the freezer section of your local grocery store.  Why, you ask?  Because this Danish is so good, but took waaaay too long to put together.  If you’re hoping to make this for a brunch or even dessert, take it easy on yourself and just buy a package of puff pastry.

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