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The Courage to Break the Rock

 

There’s nothing like walking on a 2000-year-old floor to make you feel philosophical. 

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I had a religious experience with this pizza.

I just got back from a long-planned and anticipated family vacation to Italy, where I ate approximately my normal yearly quota of pasta and pizza in a week (holler Eat Pray Love pizza place Pizzeria L’Antica da Michelle in Naples), marveled at antiquities around every corner, and saw more art in a few days than I’ve seen before in my life.  I learned that they had sassy glass mascara rods in ancient Pompeii.  I learned that people still leave flowers on Julius Caesar’s grave.  I learned that you will never eat anywhere in Rome without encountering street vendors trying to sell you mechanical dancing cats–and that my sweet mother-in-law was powerless to resist purchasing said dancing cat.  It was exhausting.  It was magical.  International travel has a tendency to pick you up, spin you around, and challenge your perspective on the world.   (Thank goodness.  I don’t know about you, but I need that every once in awhile!)

I’ve always loved marble sculpture—there is something indescribably magical to me about bare rock transformed into flesh.  But the more of them I saw (and I saw a LOT), the more I found myself imagining the moment of their creation.  Particularly that very first moment:  Artist.  Rock.  Hammer.  Chisel.  And courage.

Marble ain’t cheap, right?  (Even though Italy seems to be chock-full of the stuff.)  An artist would search diligently for the perfect piece for the project—and then, that artist had to start ever so gently and methodically BREAKING that stone.

IMG_4972“The carver places the point of the chisel or the edge of the pitching tool against a selected part of the stone, then swings the mallet at it with a controlled stroke. He must be careful to strike the end of the tool accurately; the smallest miscalculation can damage the stone, not to mention the sculptor’s hand. When the mallet connects to the tool, energy is transferred along the tool, shattering the stone.”

When I read that, I shivered (well done, Wikipedia page writer) . . . “energy is transferred” . . . isn’t that what happens when we invest ourselves fully into a project or a dream?  Energy, life force, faith, hope, angst, manifesting, positive thinking, whatever you want to call it–that’s what goes in.  But the energy can’t be fully transferred until we are willing to make the first strike, and then the second, and the third, and the forty-second, and the hundred and thirteenth.  All the while knowing that every strike might go awry somehow.  That we may have to change our plans, or start over, or throw up our hands in frustration and walk away, or admit that we have no frickin’ clue what we’re doing and maybe we should have researched this better or asked for help.  And then strike again.

I’ve been reading a few pointed criticisms of the “cult of positive thinking” lately–writers who believe that positive thinking is actually a BAD thing, because it keeps us in dreaming mode and prevents us from acting.  But that’s not the kind of positive thinking I subscribe to, and it’s not the kind my mentors are advocating for.  I don’t want to stay in sunshine and rainbows and “everything I create is a masterpiece” dream mode, even though it’s a fun place to be, and the stakes are easy to deal with.  I want to dream it, and then DO it.

IMG_5299Imagine if baby Michelangelo—the guy who famously said he was just “freeing the human form trapped in the rock”—had not been willing to make his first strike at the marble?  If he had found it too precious to possibly ruin with his efforts?  If he had not been willing to risk a colossal screw-up on the way towards his first masterpiece?  If he had said, “Someone else will have to do this.  Someone more experienced/talented/wiser/better-looking/more devout/etc..”  What talent might the world have unknowingly been deprived of?  What treasures of art would we have missed?  The David was made from a piece of rock no one else wanted to work with–other artists had tried, and failed, and said “man, that piece of marble is impossible.  It’ll break.”  And he made that imperfect chunk of stone into one of the most famous and beautiful sculptures on earth.  It would have been a crime to deprive the world of David’s beautiful marble booty . . . :)

Now, I’m not suggesting that you, dear readers, go out and find some marble to practice on.  But I am suggesting that we all take a good hard look at what it means to “fail”.

I recently devoured Brene Brown’s marvelous book “Daring Greatly”, which is about that very thing.   The willingness to be vulnerable in a world that doesn’t value it, and to help others embrace their own vulnerability by sharing ours with them.  The willingness to risk failure and the courage to lean into discomfort in order to “dare greatly”.    I won’t say much more except READ IT.  NOWWWWW.

Between Brene and Michelangelo and his ilk, I am personally committing to picking up my metaphorical hammer and chisel.  I’m ready to break some rock in pursuit of greatness.  I’m ready to fail, and fail better, and then, with practice and hard work and research and help and courage…succeed.

Lacooan

If Lacooan and his sons can spend a few centuries battling this marble sea monster, surely I can tackle spring cleaning and taxes.

 

 

Brown Butter Apple Pie Close-up

Apple Pie and Booze-y Cake and Hot Wings, oh my . . .

On several of the lovely blogs that I follow, the lady writers tend to refer to their significant others not by name, but with a cute pseudonym that involves the title of the blog . . . so whether he likes it or not (love you, honey!), for this post, I shall call my husband “Mr Dazzle”….

(In addition to excessively adorable nicknames, there will be a great deal of deliciously unhealthy food mentioned in this post.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . . )

Mr. Dazzle had a birthday recently, and we gave our traditional combo Super Bowl/birthday party for him, complete with a crowd in our apartment that involved the purchase of some folding chairs.  Now, when Mr. D and I give a party, we don’t mess around.  We both come from a long line of enthusiastic hosts who serve so much food they are inevitable stuck in the kitchen most of the party–good thing our kitchen is partially open to the living room so we can join in the fun!

Football parties in particular always involve homemade wings, which involves getting out the basket deep fryer.  It was the only thing that Mr. D requested (*demanded) as part of the wedding registry.  The man has been a hot wing connoisseur from way back, and it is certainly more efficient than the old pan fry method.  Well, once the deep fryer is out, other things inevitably seem to find their way in.  This time, in addition to homemade tortilla chips (YUM) for our traditional homemade salsa and guacamole, we did our first ever batch of homemade potato chips (labor intensive, but YUM).  It’s a good thing that the fryer barely fits on our counter and is a bit of a pain in the butt to set up and clean up, or we might be frying things waaaayyyyy too often.  As it is, we only get it out a couple times a year, and it’s super dangerous.  Also dangerous is the level of “hot” at which we like to eat our hot wings, but that’s for another post…

In addition to wings, Mr. D loves a good ol’ fashioned kiddie birthday cake (complete with sprinkles in the batter and the icing), but this year I was hoping to do something a little more out of the box.  I offered him a list of options, knowing we’d need at least two desserts for this group–he chose apple pie and margarita cake.  What’s margarita cake, you ask?  Well, I had seen a few cake recipes floating around involving lime and tequila, and considering that we love margaritas and I love citrus-y cakes, this seemed like a natural fit.  I also hadn’t made an apple pie in quite awhile and wanted to try to find a special recipe for that as well.  They both turned out so well that I felt I had to share the wealth….so without further ado, I give you Brown-Butter Apple Pie and Margarita Cake:

 

 

 

 

 

The Brown Butter Apple Pie was based on this prize-winning recipe from Leigh Loper.  I bought a gorgeous array of apples from the Union Square Greenmarket, and did almost exactly as she instructed–except that I added quite a bit of ginger to the spice mix and, as I always do with homemade pies, I substituted my Grandma’s pie crust recipe.  I doubled the crust recipe and did the top crust with overlapped star cookie cutter cut-outs–that’s a new one for me, and it was so cute and easy that I will definitely do it again.  Much more forgiving than a lattice crust!  The pie baked beautifully and the filling was incredible–I find some apple pies a bit bland and gummy, but this had a lovely balanced spice, an incredible richness from the browned butter in the sauce, and the level of thickening was just right for my taste.  It will absolutely be my go to apple pie recipe from now on.

Chris's Birthday

The margarita cake did not get much photo documentation, as it was made in the thick of party prep time.  For that, I relied on this recipe from Stacy’s Wicked Good Kitchen to help me modify my favorite 1-2-3-4 cake.  (I did NOT attempt, as genius Stacy did, a cheesecake layer in between two cake layers, although I salute her baking bad-ass-ness and plan to try that someday.  Probably when I’m not making 42 other things at the same time.)  I added the juice of 2 limes and 1 lemon to the cake batter along with the vanilla, and then went to town after the layers were baked.  They were brushed with the following, adapted from Stacy’s recipe with the liquor we had on hand:

Margarita Simple Syrup

½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon fine-quality tequila
1½ teaspoons fine-quality orange liqueur, such as Cointreau®  (I used Blue Curacao.  In spite of its blue raspberry Jolly Rancher hue, it actually has an orange flavor.)
1½ teaspoons Grand Marnier® Orange Cognac  (I subbed Limoncello, continuing the citrus theme)

Prepare the Margarita Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water and citrus juices. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves completely and mixture comes to a boil. Remove pan from heat; stir in tequila and liqueurs. Allow to cool to room temperature–do this while the cake is baking, because you want the cake layers to be slightly warm still in order to best absorb the liquid.

*Spoiler alert: Holy crap, this simple syrup is DELICIOUS.  It may need to be modified into a homemade margarita mix of sorts in the future.  The bit of blue curaçao combined with the citrus juices gave it a faint minty-green hue.  Quite pretty!

Then, I iced the cake with Stacy’s cream cheese frosting, adding some lime and lemon juice and more tequila and blue curaçao to her original recipe.  The additional liquid made the frosting a bit runny, so I added extra powdered sugar and it thickened it up pretty well.  It had a lovely citrus-y flavor with a faint hint of booze, but next time, I might be even more daring with the tequila in the simple syrup and frosting.  A bit of lime zest on top and a swirl of green decorative icing, and she was ready for company.  This cake may have to come out for Cinco de Mayo!

Mr. Dazzle’s birthday party came off beautifully–and thank goodness we had enough guests to not leave too many delicious fried leftovers for me to nosh on for the rest of the week.  That said, I may have had apple pie for breakfast the next day.

Believe me, if it was in your fridge, you would have too . . .

Cheers,

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Happy 2014–one tiny DIY and one big philosophy

I’m back……

Oh, lovely readers, I am thoroughly ashamed that it has been months (months!) since I last posted anything.  I could give you a whole bunch of excuses (like I was busy, and then I felt guilty for not posting, and then I felt like I had to do a REALLY AWESOME POST to come back, and then I was busy, and then I couldn’t think of a suitably REALLY AWESOME POST, and then the weeks kept spiraling by…), but instead, I think I’ll just jump back in to dazzle & delight with the simplest DIY project ever seen on the internet.  Seriously.  I checked.

DIY… and a bit of New Year’s musing.  Yes, I know it’s January 23, but in my world it’s never too late for a little inspiration.

I think my interior designer mother would be proud.... Mom?

I think my interior designer mother would be proud…. Mom?

The first concrete thing I wanted in 2014 was a desk.  Seems simple, right?  Except that a whole extra piece of furniture in a New York apartment can require a great deal of planning and finessing/redoing the current layout.  But I wanted it–a real desk, of my very own, and we had one very awkward corner of our bedroom that I thought had JUST enough room.  I saw a post on Pinterest that struck my fancy, drew a picture of what I wanted, got out a tape measure, googled furniture dimensions, found a couple of friends to share a zip car with me, and raided IKEA to make my vision happen as quickly as possible.  Thank goodness for IKEA and their inexpensive small space solutions–one busy Saturday with a morning drive to Brooklyn and an afternoon with a screwdriver later, I had my desk and teensy narrow bookshelf, as well as an inspiration board that I cobbled together with a piece of cork board, some foam core, and an old IKEA poster frame from the back of our closet.  I even gold-leafed that sad metal frame to make her prettier (more on that later…it was a crafty weekend, y’all, and I suspect I may have a new obsession with gold leaf).  Then of course I wanted all the pretty office supplies that I saw online, but I managed to check myself to things repurposed from around the apartment, and some cheap silver-tone thumbtacks at Staples.  Because I knew I was going to make those thumbtacks DAZZLING.  How?  My favorite thing: color.  Specifically, nail polish.

Seriously, this literally could not be easier, and the possibilities are almost endless with the color and texture selection of nail polish out there.  It dries almost instantly and covers the metal beautifully.  The hardest part may be finding something temporary to stick the little guys in while you paint them (I had a small piece of styrofoam packing material from my IKEA desk that fit the bill beautifully, but an empty cereal box or similar would work).  The rest is cake.

Clockwise from top left: Before painting; my painting supplies; my little beauties drying after the first coat; and my current Netflix obsession: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Aussie TV series about a sexy, sassy, 1920′s era lady detective–full of wit and charm and perfect for light DIY project viewing).

Now for the philosophy part…because it’s still an almost brand new year…

I first connected with Martine Holston through Erin Stutland’s Magical Manifesters course (remember this post?), and I’ve found her work and writing pretty darn inspiring.  So when she posted the following little gem in the MM Facebook community, I knew I wanted to try it.  I hate the word “resolution”, but I’ve been a fan of the “year theme” concept for a long time, but Martine put together a fantastic brainstorming workbook to help you find your theme.  Well, it took me until January 19, but I finally made the time to sit down and figure it out.  And guess what, guys, you should too!

As I was brainstorming, the things that kept coming up were “consistency” . . . “follow-through” . . . along with “flow” and “ease”.  I have always been long on ideas and inspiration and a little behind on stick-to-it-iveness.  (Just ask my blog readers.)  When I took my Strengths Finders quiz, none of my strengths had much to do with the nitty gritty get stuff done organizational skills that I admire so much in others.  I work very well with structure–as long as it’s someone else’s.  I am GREAT at keeping commitments–to other people, not to myself.  I also am really great at filling my calendar so full that it’s impossible to do everything to the very best of my ability, and little things like dishes and housecleaning and keeping track of all the daily mundanities of adulthood sometimes get shunted aside.

What I really wanted out of 2014 was an old resolution chestnut; I wanted to work smarter, not harder, to achieve my goals.  I wanted to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary and choose my commitments with more care–no more “I’m just the girl who cain’t say no”.  I wanted to create systems that helped me take care of all the boring stuff with as little effort as necessary, so that I could focus on all the juicy stuff I truly loved.  I wanted to let my artist brain dream all the big dreams, while still maintaining a bedroom where I could see the floor.  And I wanted to do all of that in a way that felt like ME.  Because if it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t going to stick.

As I brainstormed and surfed the thesaurus, I felt clearer and clearer on how these concepts worked together.  And I came up with it–my theme of 2014:

Cultivated Ease

Immediately, I got that delicious spark of recognition that you get when you hit on something powerful.  Cultivated Ease….those two little words suddenly felt applicable to every corner of my life.  I wanted to cultivate my strengths, while being kind to myself on my weaknesses.  I also wanted to work on and around those weaknesses consistently and intelligently.  I wanted that work to be joyful, and not mind-numbing and frustrating.  I wanted to create beautiful systems to help me manage my life and my time.  I wanted to engage with the world and my artist community to cultivate friendships and strong bonds, to cultivate our shared visions for the future of our businesses and our corners of the world and ourselves.  I wanted to stay “in the flow”.

Inspiration BoardSo now I had to give my artist brain a consistent, lovely reminder of my theme, and I wanted to use my pretty new thumbtacks.  So in addition to a binder where I organized my various projects and calendars for the year, I went font happy on my theme, printed some of my favorite photos, and made sure my new “inspiration board” was doing its job.  And now, whenever I sit at my new desk, I am reminded of that moment of juicy excitement when I coined my 2014 phrase, and all the delicious ways it is going to manifest for me this year.

 

Let me know in the comments if you decide to try Martine’s workbook or your own “year theme” brainstorming!  Here’s to “Cultivated Ease”, and all the lovely mantras and plans you have for yourselves this year…

Cheers,

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Grandma's cake

A Very Special Birthday Cake

My grandmother is an amazing lady.  You can feel the force of her love for her family—she wears it . . . she EXUDES it.  When I knew I would be visiting my family for her 80th birthday (and knowing that she hates “fuss” over her birthday), my mom and I plotted over a suitable excuse to make her a killer birthday cake.  We decided to claim we were “combining” my couple-weeks-late family birthday celebration and her on-time one, knowing she’d never say no to her granddaughter getting a little birthday party.  My grandmother has made me tons of special birthday treats throughout my life (mostly her homemade vanilla ice cream–a post on that soon!), so I was very excited for the opportunity to make one for her.  And I knew just the cake.

This cake started its life as my favorite cupcake recipe.  A few years ago, I discovered a cupcake blog by baker Cheryl Porro (now defunct, sadly, although the delicious archives are still there!), and the most delicious little specimen of cupcake I had yet come across:  Lavender Cream with Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting.  Now, you may love the SMELL of lavender but never considered it something to cook with–well, let me assure you, it is a stellar, creative, and versatile ingredient in sweet treats.  Lavender honey is divine, lavender infused sugar adds a gorgeous scent and depth of flavor to baked goods, and lavender syrup whipped into fresh, homemade whipped cream is really special.  I made some adaptations to the original recipe: namely substituting her cake recipe for my favorite, easy, almost 1-bowl cake recipe.  It’s the classic “1-2-3-4″ cake recipe, named such for the ingredient ratios (1 cup milk and butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs).  The lavender whipped cream and citrus cream cheese frosting are basically Cheryl’s, although I always up the citrus zest and lavender from her original recipe.

Creamed Batter*A few tips for baking, and cakes in particular.  Room temperature ingredients are super important for the easiest and best end product.  Softening butter in the microwave is a shortcut, yes, but often results in your butter being TOO soft.  Melted butter won’t cream with the sugar properly.  Eggs and milk should also be, if not totally room temp, at least on their way there.  Don’t scrimp on the “creaming” stage.  Yeah, if you don’t have a stand mixer, it’s an arm workout to hold the mixer for 5 minutes or more, but it’s worth it in the texture of the cake.  And remember not to pack your flour!  I don’t have a sifter, so I just use a fork to sprinkle the flour into my measuring cups (don’t tap it on the counter either–that defeats the purpose) and the edge of the fork handle to level it off.

Lavender Cream Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting

(adapted with gratitude from Cheryl Porro’s Lavender Cream Cupcake with Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting recipe)

Ingredients:

Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperaturePhoto1
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Lavender Whipped CreamLavender
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 rounded tablespoon lavender flowers

Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter
2 8oz packages of cream cheese
2 teaspoons mixed citrus zest (from lemons, limes, oranges, whatever citrus you have)
2 teaspoons citrus juice (same as above)
4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange two racks in center of oven.
  2. While your cake ingredients are getting to room temp, make the lavender syrup.  In a small saucepan, combine the 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar, and heat over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the lavender and let sit on heat undisturbed for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, strain into a small bowl and allow to cool completely.
  3. Spray three 9-inch round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with flour; tap out any excess.
  4. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Cream butter on medium speed until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating on medium speed until lightened, 3 to 4 minutes; scrape down sides once or twice. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating after each addition until batter is no longer slick, about 5 minutes; stop once or twice to scrape down sides.
  6. On low speed, alternately add flour mixture and milk, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat in vanilla.
  7. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Drop each pan from 3 or 4 inches above the counter once or twice to get rid of air bubbles and prevent the tops of the layers from doming.  Bake 25 minutes, then rotate the pans in the oven for even browning. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, 10 to 20 minutes more. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool, 15 minutes. Turn out cakes; set on racks, tops up, until completely cool.
  8. While the cake is baking and cooling, make the lavender whipped cream and frosting.  For whipped cream:  Begin whipping your cream in a large bowl (or stand mixer if you’re lucky enough to have one) until soft peaks form.  Slowly drizzle in the lavender syrup and continue to whip on high speed until firm peaks form.
  9. For frosting:  Soften butter on high speed, add cream cheese and beat until combined.  Add half your sugar, citrus zest, and juice, and continue to beat.  Continue adding sugar gradually until the desired consistency is achieved.
  10. Remove the parchment from bottom of each cake.  Set aside the prettiest layer for the top of cake. Place another layer on a serving platter. Place a small dollop of the cream cheese frosting in the center (this helps “glue” the layer in place, since whipped cream doesn’t hold quite as well) and spread a layer of the lavender cream over the layer. Place second cake layer over the first, and repeat the process with the small amount of cream cheese frosting and larger amount of whipped cream. Top with the final layer, and frost entire cake with cream cheese frosting.  Garnish with addition citrus zest, lavender flowers, lime slices, whatever you think is pretty!Photo7

Grandma's 80th

State Park

A Meditation on Control

Type A.  Perfectionist.  Control freak.

How many of you have been accused of any of the above behaviors?  I definitely have.

I tend to walk a line here, because I am without a doubt a perfectionist about some things—mostly how I think I should perform in certain situations (literally and figuratively, being that I am, er, a performer).  I can also blindly and blissfully let clothes pile up next to my bed until it looks like a medium-sized J Crew/Anthropologie/Banana Republic/thrift store swamp.  So maybe I’m not type-A about some things.

But in terms of CONTROL—of our professions, our love lives, our dreams and goals . . . . well, I think that’s something we all can get behind.  But what does control mean?  Part of my chosen profession is the constant reality that I have almost NO control in the process.  I can do my work to the best of my ability and try as much as possible to get out of my own way, but in the end, the decision of whether I am “right” or not for a project is going to come down to a million factors I have zero control over.  And (except the job to job applicant ratio . . . theater is rather unique in that), how different is that from many other professions?  Or, for that matter, anything non-job related.

Taking control of my destiny is something I’ve been actively working on for awhile: creating work for myself with talented friends, learning from the genius female entrepreneurs that I’m lucky enough to interact with, and getting crystal clear on what I want my life to look like.  But lately, life has felt a little out of control.

A few weeks ago, a few days before my birthday, while on vacation, my husband and I were in an awful car accident on a major highway.  I was driving.  Long story short: I was in the other car’s blind spot, they pulled into me, I swerved to avoid being hit, and ended up spinning out across three lanes of the very busy highway and onto a guardrail.  Miraculously, the injuries were minor—although our car is no more.   RIP Pontiac Vibe (2004-2013)

Blue Sky Mural

We managed to continue our vacation, thanks to rental cars and buses. Capturing pretty stuff on camera was definitely soothing to the emotional state.

I don’t remember a “life flashing before my eyes” moment.  But I do have a visceral physical memory of being completely out of control of a 2000-pound vehicle with my husband next to me, and the hideous knowledge that no action I could take at that moment would change whatever the outcome was going to be.  When we came to a stop, and I realized that neither of us were bleeding and we were no longer in the line of oncoming traffic, I came as close as I ever have to hyperventilating.  Gasping, gulping for air, and too shaken up to even cry.  It was the scariest moment of my life so far.

The intervening days brought a lot of feelings.  Intense gratitude that it wasn’t so much worse than it was.  Incredible guilt, despite the fact that I wasn’t at fault (what if I had reacted quicker? Differently? BETTER?).  And a near panic attack (another thing I’ve never experienced) next time I had to be behind the wheel of a car—which was basically immediately, considering we were hours and hours from home.

The lessons I learned are not ground-breaking or new—for me or anyone else:  Driving can be dangerous.  Life can throw you a major kink in your plans in an instant—and there’s never a “convenient time” for that kind of thing.  In the most stressful circumstances, our ability to just keep swimming ahead is necessary and important and sometimes hard as hell.  Paperwork sucks and having a good insurance company is golden.  And of course, life goes on.

As for control . . . . sometimes life just gives you a not so gentle reminder that while you can do what you do, in the end, there are larger forces at work.  You can spend your life and your energy trying to control them, or you can live in the flow—on the lookout for, and grateful for, every moment of joy and beauty, and ready to face the ugly stuff with bravery and a sense of humor and an eye towards the lessons to learn.

I hope I’ll never stop learning.  And looking.

Breakfast Burrito Prep

To Go Breakfast: Burrito-Style

I have an unfortunate addiction to Starbucks.  They are EVERYWHERE in New York, and their breakfast sandwiches are just so easy–in addition to being pretty darn good.  However . . . during a recent “come to Jesus” meeting with myself over finances, I realized that my addiction was becoming too expensive.  I was having breakfast at Starbucks several times a week before going to work or heading to an audition.  I needed a sustenance solution that involved as little early morning prep as possible but could sustain me sometimes well PAST lunchtime, as my schedule tends to vary wildly day to day.  (Because let’s be honest, I really didn’t need to spend money on lunch out too!)

Enter the breakfast burrito.

Made at home with ingredients I control (VEGGIES GALORE!), frozen and ready to pop in the microwave before I head out the door.

BREAKFAST BURRITO

Ingredients:
2 turkey sausage links
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped asparagus
1/2 cup chopped kale and spinach (I used frozen, but you can sub fresh, of course)
2 TB green chilis (they come in a 4 ounce can at Trader Joe’s)
8 eggs
1/2 cup feta (or cheese of your choice)
Garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste
Salsa
Whole wheat tortillas

Photo1Prep:
Brown your sausage over medium high heat until it’s fairly cooked through, then add red onions, zucchini, and asparagus. Saute for 3 minutes, then add the greens, green chilis, and black beans.  While that’s steaming for a bit, scramble your eggs and add salt, pepper, and spices to the egg mixture.  Reduce heat to medium, then pour over your veggie and sausage mixture.  Mix gently for a couple minutes until the eggs are almost set, then cover your skillet and turn off the heat–let the residual heat and steam finish cooking your eggs.  Cool mixture to room temp.  Mix in your cheese and get your burritos wraps ready.

To wrap:
Set your tortillas on a piece of foil.  Spoon some of the egg mixture into the center of the tortilla, add a line of your favorite salsa, then wrap using the below pictures as a guideline!

Breakfast Burrito

This makes 8 burritos (I used “medium” soft taco-style tortillas–it would probably make 4 or 5 of the monster “wrap” size burritos.).  Wrap securely in the foil and place in your freezer.   To reheat in the oven, preheat oven to 350, set the burrito foil wrapper intact inside, and let her heat up for 20 minutes or so.  In the microwave, UNWRAP the foil and microwave for about 90 seconds.  Then you can rewrap in your foil for a take-along treat!  Like most of the recipes I post involving veggies and cheese and meat, this baby is super adaptable.  Add your favorites.  Add more or less spice.  Make it vegetarian by eliminating sausage.  You could even go full vegan with, um, tofu or something, er, vegan-y (Seitan?  Is that what you use?  Vegans–help me understand!!) instead of the eggs . . .

Cheers,

Signature

 

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Flatbread

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Flatbread

Life has been awfully busy lately–between rehearsals and performances of The Sound of Music with a bunch of 8-11 year old kids, readings of two brand-new musicals, and general “life stuff”, my baby blog has taken a back seat . . . but I am faithfully posting one recipe a week.  (And planning lots of non-food-related posts for the next few weeks!)

I’m on a quest right now . . . a quest to bring some new fresh, fabulous food into my life.  You might be familiar with where I’m at: you (like me) love to cook–but you find yourself too busy to do so.  And when you do muster the energy to cook, you cook the same 6 recipes every time.  Well, I’m battling against that with a credo of “at LEAST one new recipe per week”.  I can handle that–even at this state of busy-ness!

One sublime summer day at the Getty Museum LA--perfect way to celebrate a girl's 30th.

One sublime summer day at the Getty Museum LA–perfect way to celebrate a girl’s 30th birthday.

This recipe is adapted from one sublime meal I had at the Getty Museum in LA.  The Getty is one of the most astoundingly gorgeous museums I have ever had the pleasure of perusing, and its restaurant is equally fabulous.  If you find yourself in LA, please make the trek out to the canyon and take the tram ride up to the museum.  It is SOOOOO worth it!

 

 

I have a slight obsession with summer peaches (I think I actually ate approximately 100 of them while in Seattle for three weeks.  The peaches in Seattle were that good.)  So when I saw “grilled peach flatbread” on the lunch menu at the Getty, I was sold.  And as I did with most of my favorite menu items on the road, I took down the listed ingredients on the menu so as to be able to duplicate this delicacy at home.  So here is my “homemade” version of the Getty museum restaurant’s masterpiece.  The salty, crispy prosciutto, the sweet, caramelized grilled peaches, the creamy brie, and the peppery arugula make for a REALLY special salad experience.  YUM!!

OVEN-GRILLED PEACH AND PROSCIUTTO FLATBREAD

PeachesIngredients (makes two flatbreads):
2 ripe peaches (they should SMELL like a ripe peach and have a bit of give when you press your finger in.  If it doesn’t smell peachy, don’t buy it!)
5 ounce package of prosciutto
2 cups Arugula
2 cups Spinach
Brie, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
Flatbread (I used Trader Joe’s Middle Eastern flatbread)
1 TB Balsamic Vinegar
3 TB Olive Oil plus some for brushing or spray the peaches
Salt and Pepper

ProsciuttoPrep:
Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.  Lay out your prosciutto strips in a single layer and crisp for 15 minutes in the oven, rotating the pan once halfway through.  Remove from oven and let sit on the counter for a few minutes to get super crispy!  (This step can be done a day or two in advance.  Just store your crispy prosciutto in a sealed container on the counter.)  Turn the heat on the oven up to 425.  If you have a grilling pan, pre-heat it in the oven for 15 minutes or so (pre-heating the pan will give you that “grilled” effect as opposed to a longer, slower “roasted” effect).  If not, a dutch oven or cast-iron skillet will do the trick.  Slice your peaches into quarters and spray or brush with a bit of olive oil.  Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and place the peaches in.  Grill for 4 minutes or so, then remove pan from oven and carefully turn peaches over.  Grill an additional 4 minutes, until they are beautifully caramelized and smell approximately like heaven might smell if heaven were filled with peaches.

Arrange your flatbread on your prosciutto baking sheet (’cause really, why get another pan dirty?) and arrange a couple slices of brie over it.  Place in that 425 degree oven until the bread browns a bit and the cheese gets melty, approximately 8 minutes.

While your bread is getting melty, whisk together 1 TB Balsamic Vinegar with 3 TB olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Toss your arugula and spinach mixture with the dressing (as much as you like). Crumble up the crispy prosciutto and mix that into the salad as well.  When the bread comes out of the oven, top with prosciutto, arugula, and spinach mixture and top with your grilled peaches.  Dress it up with a bit of fresh cracked pepper . . . goes GREAT with a glass of champagne!Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad

Portobello Tacos

Portobello Tacos

I’ll admit it.  I love meat.  Growing up in the midwest, I am a total “meat and potatoes” girl, and veggies have been a slow and sometimes reluctant addition to my diet over the last 10 years or so.  Meatless MEALS were crazy to even think about–until recently.  Portobello mushrooms are the vegetarians’ steak for good reason, and they are absolute perfection on tacos.  Have I mentioned I love Mexican food too?  Vegans, you could even take my taco prep into your territory by simply eliminating the cheese and choosing vegan tortillas.

VeggiesIngredients:
3 large portobello caps, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
3 smashed garlic cloves
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

MushroomsPrep:
Sauté your crushed garlic in the olive oil until fragrant.  Add the sliced mushrooms and onions and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the rest of your veggies and all seasonings.  Continue to cook until the mushrooms darken and the zucchini and onions are tender.  It really couldn’t be simpler!

For taco fixings, I love to use radishes to give it crunch and zing, as well as spinach instead of lettuce (this time I only had red lettuce in the fridge, which was also delicious).  I added a bit of sliced avocado and Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio blend–yes, it’s technically Italian, but it is just crazy good–so full of flavor that you don’t need a ton of cheese.

This picture is blurry because you DO NOT TRY TO TAKE  PICTURE WITH YOUR IPHONE WHILE DEALING WITH OPEN FLAME.  Duh.

This picture is blurry because you DO NOT TRY TO TAKE PICTURES WITH YOUR IPHONE WHILE DEALING WITH OPEN FLAME. Duh.

And my favorite taco trick is to heat the tortillas on my gas oven–it gives them a tiny bit of char and gives them the feel of fresh restaurant tortillas!  Simply place right on top of your burner on medium heat for about a slow count of five, then flip with tongs and do another slow count of five.  I do NOT, however, recommend trying to photograph this, like I did.  Um . . . fire and one-handed photography do not mix.

I served my veggie tacos with a bit of brown rice with some spices added to the cooking water and black beans, and with my other favorite Mexican-inspired food.  Street corn on the cob–which is just regular corn on the cob with approximately 200 times more flavor, thanks to a brush with melted butter flavored with salt, garlic, cumin, and paprika and a bit of cheese.  You can also do it with mayo, but I prefer the alternative.  Again–I’m from the Midwest.  We LURVE our corn on the cob.

Enjoy, lovelies!

Signature

Summer Quiche

Summer Quiche

My first savory recipe for you!  Following in the footsteps of mini strawberry pies, I bring you another pie-crust recipe, but this time, it’s a hearty, protein-filled, veggie-filled and yes, (mostly) healthy breakfast treat.  In my continuing quest to add more veggies to my diet–especially at the time of year when they are at their most appealing–I give you Summer Quiche.

I am SOOOO into breakfast.  Like–big, gorgeous, sit at the table reading the Sunday NY Times, drinking pints of coffee, decadent, three-course breakfast.  Ask me about my top 5 breakfast restaurants around the country.  I probably have a suggestion near you.  I tried a LOT of breakfast on tour. (Be still my heart, lemon ricotta pancakes at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis.  And breakfast pot pie at Snooze in Denver.)

However, sometimes you want to have big gorgeous breakfast in your pajamas with bedhead intact.  I’m not going to lie, this quiche (or as hubby lovingly calls it: qweesh) is a bit prep-intensive if you aren’t a morning person, but MAN is it worth it.  It’s terrifically adaptable (sub your favorite veggies, switch up the cheeses, try bacon or crumbled sausage instead of pancetta).  Also, it’s brunch-party worthy for a group, or if it’s breakfast for two, you have baller leftovers for breakfast all week!  And if you’re like me, you can wake up, do the initial prep, pop that baby in the oven, and take a 45 minute “mid-morning nap” while it bakes.

Summer Quiche

Ingredients:
1 batch “Grandma’s pie crust” or 1 refrigerated pie crust
1 cup sliced yellow squash
1 cup sliced zucchini
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 cup chopped rainbow chard (I know, not technically a summer veggie, but SO GOOD.)
2 smashed garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup diced/cubed prosciutto or pancetta
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper
3 large egg whites
3 large eggs
1/2 cup white cheddar cheese

Trader Joe's has prepackaged, pre-chopped rainbow chard.  It's PERFECT for this recipe, and has become one of my favorite veggies to cook.

Trader Joe’s has prepackaged, pre-chopped rainbow chard. It’s PERFECT for this recipe, and has become one of my favorite veggies to cook.

Prep:
Salt the sliced zucchini and squash, place in a colander over a large bowl to drain the excess water. While it drains, prepare your crust. Roll dough, covered with plastic wrap or parchment paper, into a 12-inch circle. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can easily be removed. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap, and fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap from dough. Fold edges under, and flute. Pierce bottom and sides of dough with fork. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

To prepare the filling, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a bit of olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add smashed garlic, shallots and rainbow chard, and saute until the chard is wilted, then add squash, zucchini, and thyme; saute for 5 minutes or until squash and zucchini are tender, stirring frequently. Cool the veggie mixture slightly.

Veggie MixtureCombine milk and the next 4 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl, whisking well to combine. Arrange squash/chard mixture evenly over crust, and sprinkle with prosciutto and cheese.  Pour the egg mixture over cheese. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until filling is set. Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack.

 

Garnish with extra thyme and serve with greens and fresh fruit.  Or, you know, lemon-ricotta pancakes.

Cheers,

Signature

Morning Coffee

After the Storm

There are pearly gray mornings like this—after a storm—that you wake up feeling thoughtful.

Sitting at the kitchen table I grew up around, looking out on the backyard I played in, the hill I sledded down, the creek I looked for “crawdads” in . . . and thinking about how the world is different this morning for so many people, I can’t help but feel lucky–and also determined.  Mornings like these give me a deep sense of responsibility for living the life I have been given.

The reason for my visit to my hometown (other than plain old love for my family) is that my dear dad had knee replacement surgery 10 days ago.  Dad isn’t exactly a spring chicken, so to speak, but I never remember thinking so deeply about his age until I’ve watched him over the last few years struggle manfully through the incredible pain of an act as simple as walking.  He’s the “hero” type—he never wants anyone to know how much it hurts, so when he DOES let you see it, you know it’s real, it’s serious, and it’s intense.  His hair is whiter and the lines on his brow are deeper because of this pain, and it hurt us to see him like that.

We’ve known for a while that this was the inevitable next step.  That next step was considerably hastened when he woke up a few weeks ago completely unable to put weight on his knees at all.

Mom sent me a picture of him after his surgery, with the caption “I can’t believe how he great he looks—10 years younger”, and I saw it too.  The lines had relaxed.  His eyes were open wider.  It was a miracle to see that after having his knee basically torn apart and put back together, he was experiencing his first moments free of pain in YEARS.

Then, of course, came the pain of rehab.  Again, my father has been dutifully doing all of his exercises every day, using a walker to travel from the recliner where he spends most of his day to the kitchen three times a day for meals and exercise.  For a few hours a day, his leg is strapped into “THE MACHINE” (I never hear that without thinking about The Princess Bride), which bends and moves it ever so slowly, increasing his range of motion a mere 5 to 10 degrees a day.  My mom brings him food, changes his bandages, does the steady work of nursing and waiting and helping.  My grandpa walks down the street and sits with him.  And he’s doing so well.  The hero’s stubborn independence is useful for processes like these.  The lines of pain are back too, but they are different—somehow they say to me, his daughter, “I know this pain is for a purpose.  This pain will lead me to the other side of the old pain.”

Sometimes the world seems too full of tragedy to truly comprehend.  Wars, economic devastation, violence—but so often we have a “villain” to blame, even when we can’t agree on who the villain is.  Humans like that.  We like to assign responsibility to someone.

Storm

But when the tragedy is due to “natural” elements, it feels different.  I think sometimes it’s almost harder.  Last night, my mom and I sat together watching the coverage of Oklahoma, and I saw her eyes well up at the pictures of Plaza Towers Elementary.  We watched a flashing weather map of our area covered in tornado watches and heard the torrential rain start outside as the line of storms reached our area.  My half-sister texted, suggesting we call my uncles to help carry my dad down to our basement.  And I started thinking about whether my mom and I, by ourselves, could carry a gravely injured 6-foot tall man down a set of stairs.  I decided that people can do extraordinary things when they have to, and that yes, we could.  It didn’t end up becoming necessary.  We all went to bed and when we woke up, the world was washed clean.

But the world isn’t clean today for so many people.  My heart breaks for people waking up without a home, without a neighborhood, and worst of all without their child.  There are tangible ways we can help, of course, and tangible ways that we should help.

But what I keep going back to, sitting at the kitchen table I grew up around, is that we honor victims of tragedy, we honor victims of hardship, we honor OURSELVES, by living life every day with a deep sense of responsibility to ourselves and the world.  We fight through the pain, and when it’s too much, we ask for help.  We carry those that need to be carried. We reach out as often as possible.  We endeavor to choose joy and lightness and adventure when darkness and lethargy is easier to sink into.  “Life is short” may be a cliché, but clichés tend to ring true on days like today.  Life is short.  Life is precious.  Life is worth it.After the Storm