Reading, eating, etc.

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Reading

I’m fitting in a lot more reading so far this year which means I’m fitting in a lot less blogging and writing and small-businessing (and working out and keeping house and and and…) I don’t know whether I feel all that bad about these lopsided priorities, though. The major hits so far have been:

An Everlasting Meal: this was my secret santa’s gift to me and I’m overall completely with Tamar Adler’s food philosophy: don’t waste a thing, anything can be a meal, etc. As a result of reading it, I usually now roast and boil a load of vegetables at the beginning of the week to use in various dishes. And Adler’s ode to pickly things made me hop up mid-chapter, slather some ricotta on toast, and top it with chopped cornichons, capers, and olives. Delish! But as one Goodreads reviewer said: she writes like every sentence is competing to win a poetry contest. For Adler, it seems ingredient ought to be personified. Every act of chopping or boiling or sauteing should be the most poetic act of all time. So that’s my gripe. Otherwise, it’s a food book worth reading.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: I’d heard this title floating around for forever but always associated it with assigned school reading, and therefore meh. But oh gosh I was wrong. It’s full of both beauty and simplicity and I found it particularly poignant as a mother. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.

In this House of Brede: Another truly excellent read. I wish I had read it in high school since I was romantically enamored with religious life. It gives a very honest picture of life in a Benedictine monastery–the hardships and the glories. Not that I would have chosen a different life. Just that at the time I probably wouldn’t have run away with my fancies of old stone cloisters and contemplative raptures. Though I don’t know. Sixteen-year-old Dominika was stubbornly romantic.

Last Testament: In His Own Words: I just want to adopt Pope Benedict as my grandfather. He’s so full of tenderness and wisdom. I especially loved his descriptions of eternity:

“St. Augustine says something which is a great thought and a great comfort here. He interprets the passage from the Psalms ‘seek his face always’ as saying: this applies ‘for ever’; to all eternity. God is so great that we never finish our searching. He is always new. With God there is perpetual, unending encounter, with new discoveries and new joy. Such things are theological matters. At the same time, in an entirely human perspective, I look forward to being reunited with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and I imagine it will be as lovely as it was at our family home.”

I’m currently on Wuthering Heights and Howard’s End.

Links:

The myth of balance: a reminder I needed.

How the internet became a tool for judgment and not dialogue: a really good reflection about how social media platforms are not just neutral modes of communication but are set up to consciously conduct the way we interact with one another.

-Sometimes I get stuck on struggles particular to my own vocation and feel like myyyy life is the hardest. But it’s good to remember that each vocation has its own particular struggles and that we need to find ways to support one another in these.

Eating

-Lots of lazy stuff because Trader Joe’s is in walking distance and I can’t always be Tamar Adler and throw together three olives, a handful of rice, some wilting lettuce, a squeeze of lemon, and call it a meal. So we had this on V-day and then we had a belated sushi date this weekend.

-Another day we had the pulled pork tacos that I discovered here. Someday I’ll make homemade pulled pork tacos because the concept is a good one and the prepackaged stuff is only so satisfying.

Etc.

-Road trip! My brother-in-law turned 30 and my sister planned a Grand Canyon hike for the two of them. Somehow that turned into a good deal of my family tagging along and making a week and half trip of it. We have a lot of family in Arizona so it wonderful for all of our babies to meet everyone. And it reminded me how I have a deep need to be in nature every now and then (or preferably all the time) to feel human.

And now photo spammy:

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Reading, eating, etc.

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

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Have you made new years’ resolutions yet? Healthier eating is one of mine, but I’m trying to be realistic about it. My sister tried to rein me into Whole 30 this month, but any diet that tries to eliminate bread feels suspicious to me. Also, I find it really weird that strips of heart disease (i.e. bacon) are allowed and pebbles of life (i.e. lentils) aren’t. Tonight I’m giving the bird to Whole 30 and making a lentil stew.

I love and hate resolutions. They feel so fresh and hopeful. But then there’s so much personal growth I feel I need to do and I have too keen a knowledge of my wimpy will power, so looking at the long list of resolutions I’ve made just makes me want to curl up in a basket of warm laundry and eat something sweet. That’s where this tart comes in. It’s a babe of a dessert, indulgent in its perfect marriage of flavors. The sugar in it is minimal. You can add more if you wish, but that’s between you and your resolutions. Eat it with friends over a bottle of port and you will have done more for your well-being than Whole 30 could ever promise. At least I like to think so. I’ll make a definitive conclusion in 28 days when my sister emerges from her bread-less existence either glowing and goddess-like or dispirited and ravenous.

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Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

Ingredients:

-Pie dough (I use this recipe and follow the suggestion to replace some of the butter with shortening).

For wine poached pears:
-Two large pears (I used red but any variety would be good. If I used a green pear, though, I’d probably use a white wine to poach)
-Half a bottle of red wine
-An assortment of cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom pods, fresh ginger, whole cloves, or ground versions of any of those things
-optional: sugar to taste

For filling:
-1 cup goat cheese
-1 cup ricotta
-1/4c honey

For streusel topping:
-1/2 cup of walnuts
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup cold butter cut in cubes

Directions:
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Shape pie dough into a tart pan, cover with wax paper and fill with pie beans or weights. Par-bake for 12 minutes.
2. Slice pears lengthwise and set aside. Heat up wine with spices to a boil, add pears, lower to a simmer.
3. Mix goat cheese, ricotta, and honey together until combined and creamy in a bowl with a spoon or in the bowl of a standup mixer.
5. To make streusel topping: place walnuts, brown sugar, and butter together in a food processor and pulse until walnuts are chops into small pieces.
4. Remove pears from wine (you can reserve the wine and boil it down for syrup) and place the pears in a layer in the par-baked pie crust. Spoon the goat-cheese, ricotta mixture over and smooth it over.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes taking it out at the 20 min mark to sprinkle the streusel all over.
6. Let it cool down on the stove top and then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

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Happy Feast of St. Basil, patron of the order of priests that founded my alma mater.

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

Notes on love and meatballs

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When I started dating my husband, I was one of those girls who is in love with love. The kind who craves and feels entitled to the most beautiful love story, the most beautiful engagement story, the most beautiful wedding, and the most beautiful babies.

But on the day my husband and I got engaged, we went to the grocery store. I don’t know why that detail always sticks out to me. I didn’t include it in when I told people our engagement story (I also didn’t include the fact that I was dreading telling my parents whom I didn’t think would be all that stoked that I was engaged at the age of twenty), but I always remember that we went to the grocery store and I was tired and from the moment we left the grocery store to the moment we pulled up at the church, I totally knew I was getting engaged.

The story I told people was all about how Joseph unintentionally chose October 12th to propose which was the Feast of Our Lady of Pilar and was just perfect and providential since in the early days of Jominika, I had prayed for our relationship at the shrine of Our Lady of Pilar in Spain. I told about how Joe liked that my ring had seven stones because it seemed a beautiful symbol: three larger gems for the theological virtues and four smaller ones for the cardinal virtues. I told about how sweetly nervous Joe was and how it reminded me of our first date. I told all the dreamy bits of our engagement story.

And yet, now I love that we went to the grocery store right before we got engaged. I love how ordinary that is when, at the time, all I wanted was the wondrously beautiful parts of love. But those things are a gift and not a right. And the ordinary things which our lives are so full of right now (read: sticky little hands and so much poop) are, in fact, part of something wondrously beautiful and larger than ourselves.

This year we attempted and failed pretty badly at saying a novena to Our Lady of Pilar. We said the prayers dutifully on days 1, 3, and 4 and missed the other six. On the actual day of our engagement anniversary, Joe got home late and went straight into CPA study mode. But I made meatballs and cranked up Dean Martin and danced around with Leo and a few times Joe snuck out of his study cave and danced around with us too. We agreed the meatballs were the very best meatballs we’d ever had and that they made for a perfect engagement-versary feast on an otherwise very ordinary day.

Sage and Ricotta Meatballs (adapted from this recipe):
-2tbs olive oil
-2lbs lean ground beef
-1 cup ricotta cheese
-2 eggs
-1/2 cup red wine
-1/2 cup bread crumbs (I toasted sandwich bread and threw it in the food processor)
-2-3tbs fresh sage chopped up (adjust for taste. I like pretty sagey meatballs.)
-2 cloves of garlic minced (I also like my food garlicky, so just use one or omit if you don’t.)
-2 teaspoons salt
-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-fresh grated parmesan or fontina
-tomato sauce (recipe below)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rub a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Combine the ground beef, garlic, ricotta, eggs, wine, bread crumbs, sage, salt, and red pepper flakes in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until combined well.
  3. Roll the mixture into tightly packed, round balls. Place the balls in the baking dish in close rows. (They can be touching).
  4. Roast for 20 minutes.
  5. When the meatballs are firm and fully cooked, remove them from the oven. Pour the tomato sauce over them. Sprinkle the grated cheese over that. Return the meatballs to the oven and continue roasting for another 15 minutes.

Tomato Sauce
-5 tomatoes
-4 cloves garlic minced (I may have used six or so…)
-bunch of fresh herbs chopped (I used sage since that’s what I had on hand, but basil, oregano, and rosemary would all be good)
-1 cup red wine
-1 large onion chopped
-1 stick of butter
-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Use a knife to score the bottoms of the tomatoes with an x. Bring salted water in a medium saucepan to a boil. Add tomatoes and boil for five minutes.
  2. Remove tomatoes and pour out the water. Blend the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. (I usually chop my herbs in the food processor first and then add the tomatoes to the mixture).
  3. Heat a little olive oil in the pot. Add garlic and onions and heat until onions are translucent. Add tomato and herbs.
  4. Add red wine and butter.
  5. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted.

Some notes:

-Chop and mince everything possible in the food processor and it makes the process so much easier. With sauces and meat mixtures, you’re not looking for pretty.
-Serve with something better than barilla. That fancy imported pasta you never feel you can justify buying, a mound of hot, cheesy polenta, a bowlful of gnocchi. Just do it. It makes all the difference.
-I ended up with too much meatball meat and didn’t have any tomato sauce on hand when I pulled the leftover meat out of the freezer (which explains why the meatballs pictured above are sauce-less). I threw together some brown butter and sage for a sauce and grated a ton of cheese on top and it was almost as good. Almost.

Notes on love and meatballs

All the Possibilities of Pepper Broth


“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” – Humbert Wolfe 

Except I am listening and all I hear is lawnmowers buzzing and police sirens wailing. Ah Houston. My car is still a hot box when I forget to park it in the shade and we still work up a sweat when we go for walks. But! But! There’s a hint of a breeze and I’m officially not a summertime shut-in anymore.

This dried pepper broth is a concoction of my husband’s and is just the thing to simmer on the stove when you’re pretending like the wind is howling and have got your Netflix fireplace channel roaring. Also, I don’t know about traditional Dios de los Muertos foods but I think this would be perf.

It’s warm and earthy and spicy. Drink it straight (with squeezed lime juice!) when you’re snuffling or let your imagination run wild with all its possibilities. We made tacos, soup, and enchiladas from it–a whole week’s worth of meals!

Dried Chile Pepper Broth (and bonus sauce)

olive oil
1 yellow chopped onion
5 cloves fresh peeled chopped garlic
3-4 fresh chopped tomatoes (you can cheat with the canned variety or is it really cheating is tomatoes aren’t in season?)
7-8 assorted dried peppers
1 fresh chopped jalapeno
2-3 fresh chopped habanero peppers
juice of 2 limes (or 4 key limes as pictured)
salt and pepper

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a stock pot on medium-high. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add tomato and cook for a few minutes more. Add chopped fresh peppers.

Fill the pot with water. (We never measure these things out but you want the pot to be pretty full.) Add dried peppers, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 1.5+hours.

Strain and reserve the broth. Remove the stems from the rehydrated dried peppers. Throw all the non-liquid remains (the peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and onion) of the broth into a blender and blend till smooth. Add a few spoons of the broth if needed to thin out a little. Thus, in addition to the broth, you’ll end up with a thick, egyptian-mud-bath-looking pepper sauce that will bless you manifold.

Add some of the broth and sauce to ground beef for tacos, use the broth as a base for tortilla soup, add Mexican chocolate to the sauce and boom! Instant mole! My computer decided to start updating in the middle of this post which made me curse and wish I had a bloody maria made with this broth so there’s another idea for you. Seriously. Endless possibilities here.

All the Possibilities of Pepper Broth

Carbonara Croque Madames

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“Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.”
-Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

I frequently feel that if I just buy the organic hand sewn baby clothes, shop at the farmers market, and make my home into one seamless combination of Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, and West Elm, I’ll be happy. It’s not true of course. If I lived in the perfectly styled photo shoots that paint my social media feeds up and down, I wouldn’t automatically have a meaningful and magnificent life. And when I try to chase after those things, I end up stressed and resentful.

Thankfully, it’s not a question of lavish expense or cheap mass production. Mending, making do, thrifting, and re-purposing can go a long way in adding a little effortless elegance to our lives.

These sandwiches are just that: effortlessly elegant. The bread was a housewarming gift from a friend. The chicken and white wine bechamel were leftovers from this recipe. They came together quickly and easily and only after I pulled them out of the oven, did I realize that what I had on hand was a perfect marriage of chicken carbonara and a croque madame.

If you’re craving something easy but oh so satisfying for a weeknight dinner, pick up a rotisserie chicken and whip these up.

Carbonara Croque Madames

1 large baguette (for four sandwiches)
Chopped leftover roast chicken, rotisserie chicken, or cooked chicken breasts
4 slices of bacon
4 eggs
1 cup white wine béchamel
1 cup grated gruyere (swiss or parmesan may be substituted)

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and preheat oven to 350F.

Fry bacon to desired crispness. Remove and chop into small pieces. Fry eggs in the remaining bacon grease.

Slice bread into four pieces and then slice lengthwise. Spread béchamel generously on each slice of bread. Sprinkle the gruyere on each slice. Top each sandwich with chicken and bacon.

Place each sandwich half on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Once the sandwiches are finished baking, place a fried egg on top of each.

Serve with a simple green salad and vinaigrette.

Carbonara Croque Madames

Brandy Plum Syrup and Notes on Namedays

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August 4th has always been a favorite day of mine. This might make very little sense considering how hot it always is (and you know I hate the heat) and how close to the beginning of the school year it is (and trust me, I can give you an earful about how much I hated public school). But August 4th, despite its drawbacks, happens to be my nameday.

I don’t know if I was specifically named after St. Dominic Guzman (ahem, Mom?) but according to Slovak rules, I get his feast as my nameday. His feast is technically August 8th on the General Roman calendar, but in Slovakia, namedays are based on the Tridentine calendar on which his feast falls on the 4th. (Does all this sound like calendaristic gibberish? To me too. As much as I want to live by the liturgical year to a t, I don’t understand all the calendar discrepancies. Jessica is your girl for that.)

Slovaks, all of them–practicing Catholics or not at all, celebrate namedays with equal import as birthdays. You get cake and presents and kisses and well wishes. But I had a very Americanized upbringing, so every August 4th, I’d just get something small: roses or a fancy chocolate bar or a pretty little knick-knack to add to my collection and to form me into the recovering maximalist that I am now.

Once, I actually got to celebrate my nameday in Slovakia. I ate my weight in langos (fried dough slathered with butter and garlic and cheese) and happily received all the aforementioned nameday glories. Yesterday afternoon, as I was about to leave my parents’ house, I mentioned that my nameday was today so my mom put a book (that she’s lending to me) in a gift bag and we basically had to drag the rest of my family down from their various activities to eat ice cream together. I don’t know which nameday celebration I prefer. (No, I actually do but the ridiculousness of the latter does make me laugh.)

There’s no connection to St. Dominic in this recipe for brandy plum syrup. You can google St. Dominic feast day food ideas and get boatloads of those I’m sure. I just happened to have very ripe plums that needed to be used up fast and this ended up being the most simple and luxurious way to do so.

Today for my nameday, I’m going to say a rosary and I’m going to have a bowl of cinnamon vanilla ice cream topped with biscoff cookie crumbles and drenched in this brandy plum syrup. I hope for your nameday you do something equally as simple and luxurious.

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Brandy Plum Syrup

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
5 very ripe black plums
2 tbs brandy or cognac

Chop your plums up into large pieces. Stir water and sugar together over medium high heat until dissolved. Add the brandy and the plums and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for at least 25 minutes or until fruit is completely soft. Once cool, pour through a strainer into a container. Store in the fridge.

Tip: Give the leftover plum pieces a whirl in the food processor and eat as a compote over yogurt or oatmeal.

Some other ideas for using your syrup:


Over spiced meatballs with goat cheese mashed potatoes

Drizzled over french toast and warm vanilla custard
Mixed with sparkling water and garnished with a sprig of rosemary
Poured over a hazelnut sponge cake
Thickened by simmering longer and used as a dip on a cheese board
Stop me or I’ll keep going…

 

Brandy Plum Syrup and Notes on Namedays