In the Kitchen : James Beard Ragu Bolognese

You know what I really like? A meal at home alone. 

A simple luxury. Whatever food I want, as complex or simple as I want, reading whatever book I want, with absolutely zero screens involved, because that's what I want. 

But, being a stay-at-home, this tiny life goal becomes immensely more challenging mostly because there is a small human needing your attention every six and a half seconds. However, when the stars line up and I'm able to find the perfect alignment of naptime, errands, and leftovers this is my go-to luxury meal for one. 

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You can find the original recipe here. Apparently it's a James Beard classic, which to me, means that it sounds fancy but is inherently classic and delicious. One cannot add to perfection but I will give you my thoughts on the process.

  • The last two times I've made this I've sliced into my thumb trying to chop up the bacon into tiny pieces. It's delicious with bite-size (less liable to knife thumbs) pieces. Don't worry too hard about those tiny tiny pieces. 
  • I'm hardly ever precise on the exact number of vegetables. It's still always good.
  • The browning the vegetables part used to take me FOREVER. Then I realized that I had my heat way too low, so I cranked it up to medium high and the recipe is better for it. Actual carmalization matters y'all.  
  • Yes, this recipe calls for liver. You may think, "Liver is disgusting. I should just leave this out." That would be a bad idea. Seriously, don't do it. Here's the trick- Dump the livers into your food processor and let it spin for a few seconds. By doing this, the liver turns into a paste which, through the magic of cooking chemistry, makes this recipe the silky gourmet treat that it is. 
  • Every time I make this recipe I think, "This is too greasy. Why is there so much oil/ fat substance hanging out in this pot?" And every time I'm pleasantly surprised when it actually works out. 
  • Go easy on the salt. The base of this recipe is bacon so it's easy to salt things like you normally would having forgotten that you started out with lots o' salt. 
  • This bolognese is a spoon recipe. I have no clue how real Italians eat their ragu bolognese but I like to boil some orzo and eat the whole thing with a spoon. 
  • The recipe says the cream is optional. Though it is undoubtedly delicious without the cream, it is definitely not optional. 
  • The recipe calls for parsley as garnish. I prefer a ridiculously super simple tomato "salad", because it cuts through the richness. 
  1. Halve a handful of tiny tomatoes.  
  2. Season with salt and pepper.  
  3. Add a splash of olive oil and a smaller splash of balsamic vinegar.  
  • This recipe is perfect for: rainy Sunday afternoons, dinner parties (don't mention the liver), and the aforementioned luxury solo lunch. 

Book Review : Anna and the King of Siam {Part 1}

The saying goes "The book is always better than the movie," but what about the play?

When the local performing arts center, Walton Arts Center announced that they would be having a book club attached to their 2017-2018 Broadway season I knew I wanted to take part to answer that question. I hope {fingers crossed} to read the book and then watch the performance of at least four shows when they come to town. 

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The first book is Anna and the King of Siam with the play being Rogers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

First thoughts:

Good gracious was I intimiadated.  Call me shallow but I get frustrated ridiculously easy when there are too many "thous" and "therefores" and the author starts referencing world events that may have been common knowledge at some point but isn't at this point. Fortunately for me, this wasn't the case. Though the events of the book take place in 1860 this compilation / rendition of Anna's story was written in the mid 1940's. This makes it immensely easier to digest and the author does a wonderful job of giving context and backstory. Within the first five chapters I was hooked and ready to hear about the adventures this smart but stubborn woman was about to undertake. 

Synopsis:

Anna is a newly widowed mother of two who takes a job teaching the King of Siam's children (and many wives) the English language and European customs. In the process she learns the intricacies of Siamese court life and the people within. 

Reading thoughts : 

Reading, to me, is always an inexpensive ticket to a faraway land. But this particular ticket in book-form had a special time traveler aspect to it as well. Not only did I get to felt the oppressive humidity of a Bangkok summer but I got to experience it while wearing all the layers of clothing {think hoop skirts} of a proper English lady.

I felt that there were three main parts of the story: the description of place and people, the explanation of Siamese custom, and the individual stories that ran throughout. Other than a particularly dry section that explained French aggression, I really found that each of those three parts interlocked and depended on the other. Without the detailed explanation of the Siamese custom of harems one would not be able to fully comprehend a city of 9,000 women that lived solely within the walls of the palace. And without the lush details given of the scenes and streets within that city, the individual intrigues would not not been so personal.  

Personal, that's what these stories truly were. I would find myself wondering,

"What would I do if I were suddenly the disgraced wife of the king? Would I throw myself into study or would I try to escape?"

"What would I do if I were the favored wife and saw a young concubine misbehaving? Would I try to help her or would I leave her to her own undoing?"

"What would I do if I were a young single {poor} English school teacher and the most powerful man in the country (tyrannical despot though he may be) wanted to marry me?"  

Perhaps it was this sense of the personal that gave it such an immediacy to me. This wasn't the story of women almost two hundred years ago. This is a story about women.

Poor women and rich women. Kind women and evil women. Brave women and otherwise. Loyal slaves. Despicable mothers. Rowdy teenagers. Women who loved and married and miscarried and sent their children to better circumstance however possible.

Women of all sorts who were simply trying to do the best with what that had been given. 

The end of the book has the main character speaking to a minor character years after the story takes place, where the main character is lauded for the having achieved her goal of influencing the direction of an entire country through the education of one young prince. And, though it sounds trite, isn't that what we all want? "It was hard but it was worth it. I changed the world for the better."

After reading / Before the play:

I'm excited to see the visuals the theatre makes happen with this story. "Lush" and "decadent" are two descriptors I would immediately associate with the setting of the book. Another is "expansive". A city within a palace that holds 9,000 women?!? How is that even possible to put forth on a stage?

This makes me think this will be more about the relationship between the main character and the King. I understand that. I mean, it is the title of the book. But the truth is, the wasn't the thing that most interested me.

Yes, it was the string that connected all the other events. If she wasn't having a {mostly disagreeable} relationship with the King none of the other things would have happened in her presence or sphere of influence. However, to me, her relationship with him wasn't the transformative thing that generally moves a story forward. So I will be interested to see how they make that happen on stage as well. 

Logistics note:

I'm publishing this on Friday September 29. I will be attending the play on Tuesday, October 3 and the associated book club on the 9th. I will write a follow up post after I've both seen the show and attended the book club so that you get to enjoy the breadth of this experience with me. 

In Praise of : My Old Lady Yoga Class

"Legs up the wall is a restorative pose," the yoga teacher says. "While you can't gain back lost sleep..."

"I have a two-year old. Watch me." I mumble under my breath and hear a giggle beside me. 

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I am in my weekly yoga class. That's a sad admission, isn't it? I go to the gym exactly once a week and it's to my old lady yoga class. Sam gets the chance to "play with his friends". i.e. childcare and I get to stretch my body and relax (a very small bit) of my mind. 

In this class I likely burn no calories.

In this class I am surrounded by women who are 20 years my senior.

In this class I don't sweat.

In this class the only time I get light headed is if I rise out of forward bend with too much enthusiasm.  

In this class it's not about doing better or faster or stronger.

In this class it's not about what the rest of the world seems to constantly pressure me to do.

I adore my Old Lady Yoga class.


I attend yoga at the Bentonville Community Center. You can find their fall schedule and other fitness classes in Northwest Arkansas here

Note to Self : Listen to Sports Radio More Often

Recently I was driving my husband's truck around town

(truth: we missed trash day after Christmas and had to take care of that). Per normal, sports radio was playing and, because I like to have an occasional informed conversation about sports, kept listening.

 After a former NFL pace kicker, Shayne Graham, started chatting with a local radio host, I almost turned it. "This is not helping increase my sports knowledge," was the thought that flitted across my mind before traffic distracted me and the channel stayed where it was. 

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 As it turns out

what this guy shared was lots better than random sports knowledge. Somehow he started talking about the mental game and the pressure that is tied up in the position of the person responsible for kicking the extra point. The phrase, "The pain of missing is ten times more intense the high of making it 100 times in a row," made me stop and pay attention. "Wait," I thought, "I'm not the only one that puts much more weight on negative occurrences?"

He went on to say that when it's time to actually go out and make that high stress kick, he had music going through his head. He explained that pre-game was the time for analyzing the wind speed and direction, the location of his target points and knowing the quirks of whatever stadium he happened to be playing. But when it's time to actually put that information to the test, he can't overthink it, which is the reason for the music.  

Just a disclaimer, I am the least sporty person I know.

I will occasionally do yoga, kayak, and snow ski but even these are outdoor activities, definitely not major sports with teams and rules and, most importantly, competition. Certain sorts of competition make me crumble. I really dislike that pressure. 

Which makes it even more interesting that, after hearing how this Pro Bowl level football kicker talk about his process, I totally related to what he said. Over-think, over-analyze, research research research: and then totally just let go and let your body, muscles, and spirit do what it knows what and how to do. 

But the bigger story for me was this:

There is always something to learn.

I give curiosity and learning lots of lip service but then discount things that don't quite hit my "standards" (sports radio). Here's to ignoring those standards and staying curious.

Ps. I wanted to link to the audio of the original interview but can't find the file. I will update it something changes.  

Note to Self : Why the Fact That My Hair is Pink Matters

As we were signing off from a text message

that was quickly reaching past 11pm, a friend said, "Rest easy. Maybe the pink hair gives you a bump in the artistic direction." 

The "rest easy" part came because I had shared with her the fact that I wasn't able to sleep past 4 am earlier that day because the day before I had dyed my hair pastel pink. 

The "bump in the artistic direction" came because she had been praising the work I have been doing through my daily kitchen illustration project  {#myillustratedkitchen on Instagram}. 

And her text made me smile because she is one of those people who we all need in our lives: they can be forthright, they can be funny, but most often they just encourage you and make you smile.  

But as I thought about it, I realized that it wasn't my pink hair giving me some special artistic magic.

It was the opposite.

It is the fact that I grew up wanting to be an artist but never having the courage or self-confidence to even admit that outloud. It is the fact that I have always been worried about how people perceive me and what people think. It is the fact that growing up in a small town, I tried my hardest to fit into the "nice (if slightly nerdy) girl" box: long blonde hair, blue eyes, doesn't say a lot but smiles plenty, and doesn't mind it when someone looks over her shoulder on the civics test.

It's only been since I've been intentionally pursuing art

over the past year that the desire to stay in that box has dissipated. And I'm still nice. And I still smile a lot. But the desire to look and (and more importantly) act a certain way that is expected is less of a steering force in my life. 

{Notice I said, "less". I would not have gotten up at 4am if I didn't care about certain people's reaction. }

Part of my experience with not just making art but actively seeking out opportunities to show it or sale it or have it published has made me more courageous. And that's the things about living in the "nice girl" box- it's safe. No one is going to attack you for being the nice girl.

But people might attack you

if they see you doing something that they don't think is appropriate. Friends, family, or random internet or coffee shop strangers may see what you're doing, immediately dismiss your work and say, "she just paints flowers." Those same people may condone you for painting instead of going to the library with your son. Or they may make light of accomplishments that you poured your heart and soul into. Or they may totally ignore it.

And the chance of all these things happening is scary... until they happen. You realize that instead of immediately dying of a broken heart you have a cut. Sometimes it's minor emergency that requires the attention of other people, but more often than not it's an annoying (ie. painful but harmless) papercut.  

Claiming my title

as an artist has helped me realize how tough I can be and every time I revive a cut I step a bit farther from that box. Because people can't make a difference while trapped in a box. And that's part of why we're here, right? 

I got pink hair because I've wanted to have bubblegum pink hair for a while but I've always been too afraid. Growing less afraid, stepping away from the box, allowing my courage to give me the artistic bump I need: those are the reasons I should rest easy. 

Illustrated Grocery List + Cookbook Review : Moosewood Restaurant Favorites

When I first read

through the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook, my thought was, "This is not for me."

You see, it's a vegetarian cookbook. I am not a vegetarian. In fact, I raised beef cattle throughout my childhood. Meat was front and center of our plates.

And though my grandmother loved fresh vegetables, it has never been my thing. 

So imagine my surprise when it was this recipe, a simple vegetable stew became my gateway drug to vegetarian cooking. 

It is the whole experience :

the smell of fresh cut vegetables that envelops the kitchen before the cooking even starts, the visual beauty of all the colors on display bubbling in the pot, the intense warmth (but not hot/spicy) of the spices that are foreign but recognizable to a Southern American palette. 

I have included the recipe, straight from the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook, below.

Caribbean Stew

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh hot pepper, minced
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage
  • 1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped bell peppers {I like yellow because it adds color!}
    (3/4-inch pieces)
  • several fresh thyme sprigs OR
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (3/4-inch cubes)
  • one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups finely chopped kale
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Warm the oil in a covered soup pot on low heat.

Add the onions with the salt, the nutmeg, black pepper, ginger, and hot peppers and thyme, if using dried and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the cabbage and bell peppers, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes.

Add the sweet potatoes and enough water to just cover them, 1 or 2 cups.
If using fresh thyme, tie the springs into a little bundle with kitchen string and add it to pot.
Bring to a boil and cook at a rapid simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Add the tomatoes, kale, lime zest, lime juice, and cilantro and simmer for a final 10 minutes.
Remove and discard the thyme springs.

Breathe in the sweet vegetable goodness. Stare in amazement at the perfectly cooked sweet potatoes. Eat. Try not to grin too hard when your husband decides that kale is actually pretty good.